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DPP steps in after decade-old murder case racks up mention dates

BY TANESHA MUNDLE
Observer staff reporter
mundlet@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, October 12, 2017

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THE murder case against St Thomas labourer Michael McLean, who is implicated in the brutal slaying of a family of six in St Thomas in 2006, is now the oldest case on the Supreme Court's trial list, having been there for a decade.

In fact, in the absence of an official tally, it is quite likely that McLean's case has created history as the only case that has had 87 mention dates.

A breakdown by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions of the events that have occurred since the matter was first brought before the court on May 2, 2007, showed that the case was mentioned 37 times for McLean — who has changed attorneys at least seven times — to settle legal representation. Also, the case was scheduled 15 times for trial, two of which were set for priority; four times for plea and case management hearings; and three times for psychiatric evaluation. The accused was also absent four or five times because of medical reasons.

The St Thomas resident was arrested in 2006 after he allegedly went on a rampage on February 26, killing 30-year-old Patrice Martin-McCool, her aunt and her children: Five-year-old Jihad McCool, two-year-old Shane Chin, seven-year-old Lloyd McCool, and nine-year-old Jessie Ogilvie. Martin-McCool and three of her children were found with their throats slashed on the Prospect Beach, while the burnt body of McCool's aunt, 40-year-old Terry-Ann Mohammed, was discovered in an adjoining district later that day. Jihad's body was found a week later in a shallow grave in St Mary.

But interestingly, despite all those setbacks, the trial failed to start yesterday as the Crown was not ready, owing to the fact that at least two key witnesses who were initially available have since relocated and have become reluctant. A new trial date was set for January 29, of next year.

Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Paula Llewellyn has, however, accused McLean of manipulating the court system and playing “musical chairs with his legal representation”.

The DPP said yesterday that she had to intervene as a matter of public interest and the fact that she now has to turn her mind to whether or not there has been an abuse of power.

“But I take the whole issue of an abuse of power so seriously, that is why I am taking the time to inform the court why we must proceed,” she said.

The DPP then pointed to the case's chronology, which she described as having an “almost nightmarish quality”, noting that she had never before heard of a case with 87 mention dates.

“I have only heard of about 33,” an alarmed Justice Martin Gayle added.

Llewellyn then told the court that after the matter was brought before the court in May, it was placed on the trial list on November 17, 2008, but on that day legal-aid assignment was revoked and the matter was returned to the mention list for McLean to get a lawyer.

Following that, she said the matter was mentioned eight times before it was placed back on the trial list in October 2009, but on the mention date, McLean was not brought to court and the matter had to be mentioned twice for him to be brought.

The DPP said the matter then returned to the trial list on February 15, 2010 and was set for trial on July 12, but on that date McLean indicated he was considering entering a guilty plea. Consequently, a trial date was set for a plea to be considered but the accused changed his lawyer and the matter was returned to the mention list on March 14, as no attorney was present.

In continuing, Llewellyn said the case was set for mention three times before it went back on the trial list for trial to start on June 20, 2011. She said during those times the Crown was ready to proceed and all 12 witnesses were ready and available.

But on the trial date, she said the matter returned to the mention list for McLean to settle legal representation and it was mentioned 10 times after that, for him to get a lawyer before it was placed back on the trial list for trial on March 19, 2012.

However, on the trial date the attorney was absent. The DPP said the matter went back on the mention list and a different trial date was set for December 3, 2012, but could not proceed on that date as the lawyer requested a psychiatric evaluation.

Following that, Llewellyn said McLean changed his lawyer again and the matter was mentioned 21 times for him to retain a new lawyer. The matter then returned to the trial list for October 15, 2015 and McLean was offered a legal-aid attorney but refused, resulting in the matter being mentioned a further two times.

The DPP said the case was mentioned eight more times for McLean to settle legal representation and another request was made for psychiatric evaluation when the matter was placed on the trial list for February 13, 2016. But, thereafter, the matter was mentioned three more times for the result of the evaluation report and the settling of legal representation for McLean.

Shortly after the matter returned to the trial list and McLean changed attorney and retained his current lawyer, Carlton Collman, and the matter was mentioned 11 times for representation to be confirmed, disclosure and bail application.

Llewellyn further pointed out that the case was then returned to the trial list, but between March 6 and October 4 of this year the trial could not start as other matters were being tried.

At the same time, the DPP told the court that it must be noted that for a substantial time, all of the witnesses were ready but the prosecution did not want to start the case without a defence lawyer. Additionally, she said the psychiatric evaluation report had indicated that McLean was fit to plead.

Therefore, she said having seen the history of the case, which now warrants her personal intervention, she will have to “step up to the plate” and will be writing to Police Commissioner George Quallo and Assistant Commissioner of Police Selvin Haye for extra manpower to locate the witnesses who will have to be persuaded to come forward.

She said, too, that she will also write to Chief Justice Zaila McCalla for her to make available a designated court and judge for the matter to start in January, and as a precautionary measure will place a legal-aid lawyer on alert and will also be armed with the relevant authorities to make submissions for McLean to represent himself in the event that he decides to change attorney again.

However, Collman, who was upset that the matter was not starting, dared the DPP to adjourn the matter for a week and start, instead of waiting until next year.

“You shouldn't hide behind the list. I am daring the DPP to set it for next week and let's go.

“I have done 40 years and I know that if the prosecution wants to start today it can start,” he said. “I am here and don't care about what happen in the past, I am ready today,“ Collman said.

In the meantime, Queen's Counsel Valerie Neita-Robertson, who was one of the lawyers who had represented McLean, described the further delaying of the matter as 'disgraceful'.

“This is disgraceful. Defence counsel is literally begging for the case to start,” she said. “We are not serious to be putting off a matter like this of this nature.”

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