Convicted twice, now free
Appeal Court cites delay, deficiencies in transcript for releasing man given life for murder

THE Court of Appeal on Friday gave its reasons for last year ordering the acquittal of a man — who was tried and convicted twice for the same murder and sentenced to life behind bars — on the basis that his constitutional rights had been breached on two fronts.

"In this case, there has been extreme delay between the date the appellant was convicted and when the appeal was set down for hearing — approximately nine years. Beyond that delay, the deficiencies in the transcript that was eventually produced make it impossible to conduct a fair review of his conviction and sentence," the Appeal Court said in outlining its reasons for the 2022 order of acquittal.

It said, furthermore, "The incomplete transcript gives such a truncated view of the evidence against the appellant that it cannot be determined, on any reasonable standard, that it would be fair to order a re-trial".

"More compellingly, in the circumstances of this case it would be grossly unfair to order the appellant to undergo a third trial for three main reasons," the Appeal Court stated, pointing out that the appellant had been taken into custody no more than one month after the murder.

The man in question, Maitland Reckford, had been tried and convicted for the February 2003 murder of Conroy Llewellyn. Arising from his first conviction on July 27, 2007, he was sentenced to life imprisonment, with the stipulation that he should serve 25 years before becoming eligible for parole.

His first conviction was quashed on appeal and a re-trial ordered on July 9, 2010. He remained in custody at the date of his second trial.

His second trial commenced on October 7, 2013 in the Home Circuit Court and culminated in his conviction on October 11, 2013. He was subsequently sentenced, but neither the sentence nor the date on which it was imposed could be ascertained from the transcript of the proceedings as those parts, along with others, were missing. Additionally, the indictment upon which he was tried was not part of the court's record.

Following his 2013 conviction, Reckford applied for leave to appeal that sentence and conviction, and was granted permission in April 2021.

In February last year, the Appeal Court, after hearing the matter in full, said Reckford's right to be given a copy of the record of proceedings had been breached and that his right to have his conviction and sentence reviewed by a superior court within a reasonable time had also been breached by the excessive delay between his conviction and the hearing of the appeal.

The Appeal Court, at the time, ruled that "as redress for those breaches of his constitutional rights in these circumstances, his conviction is quashed, the sentence is set aside, and a judgment and verdict of acquittal is entered".

On Friday, the court said: "Whatever the explanation for the delay in the production of the transcript, there can be no doubt that the appellant's right to have his appeal heard within a reasonable time has been breached."

In relation to his right to be given a record of the proceedings within a reasonable time following the judgement and after the prescribed fees were paid, the judges said, "the breach is palpable".

Furthermore, the court said, "To have had a charge, like the sword of Damocles, hanging over his head for the better part of 19 years, borders on being inhumane."

The court, in pointing out that any re-trial ordered would not take place before the 20th anniversary of the appellant's arrest and charge for the offence, said "that, could not be demonstrably justified in any free and democratic society".

"It appears, from the chronology provided by his counsel that the appellant has remained in custody, at least from the date (23 March 2003) he was taken into custody as a suspect in this case, to the date of the hearing of his appeal. Consequently, assuming a similar outcome of a third trial, in both verdict and sentence, the appellant would have served already a substantial portion of any pre-parole period imposed. It was against this background that we considered the appropriate redress to be the quashing of the appellant's conviction," the court stated.

It further noted that without sections of the transcript, the court was not able to properly review the appellant's conviction and said that fact, together with the failure to provide the appellant with a complete transcript and the extreme delay, post-conviction as well as the delay between the appellant's date of arrest and the date of any ordered re-trial, made quashing his conviction the only appropriate remedy in the circumstances.

The sole eyewitness brought by the Crown had alleged that Reckford and another man — both of whom she knew — had, on the night in question, forced their way into the yard of a relative she was visiting. She said Llewellyn, who was present and sitting under a tree, had been pounced upon by Reckford, who put a gun to his head and fired twice. The evidence of the pathologist, however, was that Llewellyn had been shot in the back and not the head, and that there was only one entry gunshot wound on his body. Furthermore, the pathologist said he was not shot at close range, contrary to the evidence of the eyewitness.

Reckford had testified in his defence; however that evidence was not part of the transcript reviewed by the Appeal Court judges.

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Senior staff reporter

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