Defence gets another day in court

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Defence gets another day in court

Judgement in King Valley gang trial now set to be handed down next week

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS
Senior straff reporter
dunkleywillisa@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, July 04, 2020

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THE judgement by Chief Justice Bryan Sykes in the trial of six alleged members of the Westmoreland-based King Valley gang, which should have been handed down yesterday, is now set for next week.

The postponement was given by the court after defence lawyer Everton Bird, in his closing address yesterday, successfully argued that the star prosecution witness should be recalled by the court on the basis that he had unearthed a statement made by the witness to the police about an incident on June 15, 2018 which contradicted statements he had made in court about the very same matter in January this year.

Bird further challenged the credibility of the star witness who, over several days at the start of the trial in January when he testified via live video link from an undisclosed location, told the court that gang members were involved in the deadly lottery scamming scheme, committed murders and rapes in the course of robberies, and were also murderers for hire. The witness, a former member of the gang, also said he had, in 2018, handed himself over to the police and decided to give evidence against them after they killed seven of his own family members including his father, aunt, two uncles, a cousin, his sister and an in-law, in seeking to pull him out of hiding.

Yesterday, Bird, appearing on behalf of his client Copeland Sankey, in the Home Circuit Division of the Supreme Court in downtown Kingston, said: “I wish to indicate to the court that counsel has stumbled upon a statement given by [the main prosecution witness] to the police and the evidence is that the statement is contrary to what happened...” Bird declared.

“Was that evidence adduced by you or anyone?” the chief justice asked.

Said Bird: “It was disclosed generally.”

“Was it disclosed or was it not? Or did you have it and didn't know you had it?” the chief justice pressed.

“The latter, Milord,” Bird responded.

“That means you had it and didn't read it,” the chief justice charged.

When Bird, in attempting to gloss over the matter by citing case law to back his argument that the judge should be allowed to use his discretion to allow for a witness to be recalled even at the closing stages of the trial, Chief Justice Sykes said, “Let me see it. If you don't have it I am not going to be entertaining it... I need to see the authority, this is a court of law.”

“Mr Bird, you have been practising law for too long long now... you got the document, you chose not to read it carefully, that's your choice...What you are doing here now can't work because there is a process. You read, you prepare and when the witness comes you ask questions...what you want to do here is not permissible,” the chief justice said.

Bird in persisting cited case law which he said made it “quite clear that anything defence counsel wanted to say on behalf of his client”, he could.

“You wont find any case in any reputable book that supports what you are purporting to do,” the chief justice responded.

“Any witness may be recalled,” Bird argued further, saying that the lockdown resulting from the novel coronavirus pandemic, among other incidents which caused the trial to stall, had impacted his presentation.

“This is inefficiency of the highest order, this is inefficiency beyond belief; I cannot understand how a lawyer with your many years at the bar can display this level of inefficiency,” said the chief justice.

An unmoved Bird, who then offered to have his assistant retrieve the case to which he referred from his office, said: “I accept all of that, Milord, but if I had been squeamish about what you have said I would have said it.”

“You mean you even came without it? This really is not a good display,” Justice Sykes chided.

“I had a tough morning, I just lost a sum of money,” Bird said patting his pockets, earning Justice Sykes's remark that “everyday is tough”.

Bird told the court that the prosecution's main witness was “encouraged in giving hearsay evidence”. He further insisted that while it was said that the witness had not been offered immunity in exchange for his testimony against the gang, it was clear that he had been given some deal as he had spoken too glibly and freely without any apparent “fear of the future” in detailing the supposed criminal acts of his former cronies.

“He went to town in giving evidence of what he says dead people said; so many references were made to people who are no longer with us. I was forced to invent a term, I call it 'cryptic ventriloquism'. The main witness offered himself as a medium through which the dead could speak...he repeats what he wants the courts to hear...he came here in the guise of a fish who weent to river bottom and tell yuh that shark down there,” Bird offered, evoking this rejoinder from Justice Sykes, “Well, many people will tell you it is rare to have shark in fresh water.”

In the meantime, Bird was unsuccessful in his bid to convince the court that no gang existed as in the definition of a “gang” contained in the anti-gang legislation under which the six are being tried. “The allegation that there is a gang called the King Valley Gang is not on very firm footing,” Bird argued.

He went on to claim that the main witness “is aggrieved at [Copeland Sankey] and as a result intends to do all he can to get this court to do Tupac in”.

“The witness has left a spectre of death hanging over the court in relation to Nalaugh...we don't hear the prosecution calling a police witness to say whose house was burnt down, whose house was shot up, there was no corroboration,” Bird challenged.

Yesterday a senior prosecutor with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, responding to the contradiction raised by the Bird, pointed out that the witness told the court that he was not on the spot when the actual shooting and burning of a house was done by members of the alleged gang, but that he had said he acted as the lookout and was told by the other members what had transpired when they returned.

“We have taken it out of the realm of hearsay which it is not...it is two incidents. The witness was not there for the second incident but he was present for the first...in the first incident he was there as the lookout but in the second he was in Kings Valley,” she explained.

Bird, however, countered that there was “no distinction in his evidence...I do not agree with the first and second incident reference”.

Justice Sykes, after hearing arguments from both sides said the witness, if available, would be given the opportunity to respond to the point raised by Bird about his statements.

“I am going to use my discretion and have the witness recalled,” Justice Sykes relented. In adding that he was aware that the case had dragged on for an inordinate amount of time, he said “the good news is, the end is near”.

The main witness is expected to reappear via live video link on Tuesday morning when the court resumes at 10:00. The chief justice's judgement in the case is expected to be delivered afterwards.

The trial by judge began on January 14 with nine men in the dock — three of whom have since been freed.

The remaining six — Carlington Godfrey, alias Tommy; Rannaldo McKennis, otherwise known as Ratty; Derval Williams, also called Lukie; Christon Grant, alias Ecoy; Lindell Powell, also called Lazarus; and Copeland Sankey, also known as Tupac — are charged in an indictment containing 11 counts on suspicion of being part of a criminal organisation, providing benefits to a criminal organisation, and conspiring to commit murder, rape and robbery with aggravation from as early as 2013.


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