Court Administration Division moves to allay fears of logistical nightmare as trial of 50 alleged gang members looms

Senior staff reporter

Monday, November 02, 2020

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The Court Administration Division (CAD) has declared that it is pulling out all the stops to ensure that the pending trial of 50 suspected members of the feared St Catherine-based Klansman Gang will not be a logistical nightmare.

At least two defence attorneys had expressed concern about the logistics for a trial with that many defendants at the end of the Uchence Wilson gang trial in October.

In that case, which stretched from 2019, 24 accused initially faced the courts, forcing officials to use two courtrooms as the prisoner's docks could not accommodate them while observing the protocols relating to the coronavirus pandemic, which hit Jamaica in March.

In the aftermath of that trial, attorneys Donald Bryan and Alexander Shaw, in an interview with the Jamaica Observer — said the experience with that trial made them leery of what one with 50 accused would be like.

“We have seen in this trial, that went on for a whole nine months, and if you are going to talk about another trial that is waiting in the wings that would have nearly twice the number of defendants... how will that be harnessed in terms of time frame, financial resources, social distancing in this pandemic?

“So the logistics, certainly, need to be worked out, and very quickly, in my humble view, and be brought to the attention of the stakeholders so they can properly plan and make adjustments going forward,” Bryan told the Observer.

Shaw argued that, as things are now, the courts are unable to fit another matter of that nature with the limited resources now available.

“These persons may languish in custody until the pandemic passes, so that alone tells us that this thing needs further tweaking,” said Shaw.

But the CAD's director, client services, communication and information, Kadeish Jarrett-Fletcher, is moving to allay those fears.

“We are working out the logistics to ensure the safety of all persons who will need to be in the courtroom for that upcoming matter. The concerns are legitimate, we will work out the logistics and we will communicate that to the attorneys,” Jarrett-Fletcher said.

The 50-accused gang case, a first in the Caribbean, has had the impact of Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Paula Llewellyn deciding to take up Prime Minister Andrew Holness's offer to stay on the job for another three years.

According to the Llewellyn, the pending case “will have security issues, will need the deployment of at least six prosecutors, and will be very complex”.

The DPP and her team are forging a novel path to successfully net gangs under the 2014 Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organisations) Act, commonly referred to as the Anti-Gang Legislation. So far, the prosecution's fortunes have been mixed.

In the Uchence Wilson matter, 15 individuals were acquitted. The other nine, including convicted gang leader Uchence “Terrence” Wilson, are awaiting sentencing, which is set for the end of November.

In July, a not guilty verdict was handed down for six persons accused of being members of the notorious King Valley gang by Chief Justice Bryan Sykes. Originally, nine men had been 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.

Three were released over the course of the trial, which began in January after the evidence against them collapsed. In reacting to the ruling, a member of the prosecuting team said the loss would mean a reassessment of how they would approach pending gang-related cases.

The prosecution's case in the King Valley gang trial relied heavily on the testimony of one witness, who claimed to be a former gang member with intricate details about crimes committed by his alleged former cronies.

But Justice Sykes was unconvinced by the witness's testimony and cited a lack of corroborating evidence.

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