CHIEF Justice Bryan Sykes, in sifting through the evidence of the Crown's two main witnesses against alleged top-tier members of the St Catherine-based Klansman Gang — 27 of whom are now being tried for supposed crimes — has pointed to what he says is a "sharp contrast" between the two men who came to be informants.
The chief justice on Monday began reviewing the evidence in the case at the Supreme Court in downtown Kingston.
According to Witness Number Two, who had been arrested in 2018 with other gang members for being part of a criminal organisation but who was subsequently freed, he had offered evidence because he "wanted to help Jamaica" and had felt remorse while in custody. The man who said he was the gang's banker and personal driver for alleged leader Andre "Blackman" Bryan said monies collected were stashed in his refrigerator at his swanky home and used to "buy gun and gunshot, and pay lawyer fee" as well as buy food, pay for rental cars, and to give to members of the gang who made their requests for funds through Bryan. He said he grappled with feelings of fear as he knew turning against the gang could cost him his life and that of his family members. He also said he started "drifting" from the Klansman Gang after a friend of his named Frazzle, who introduced him to the gang, was killed. According to the witness, being "scared" was the reason he held back some details from the police when giving his statement to them. He told the court that he had been more detailed in his testimony before the tribunal because his alleged cronies knew who he was and there was no need to hold back.
Witness Number One, who said he had been forced to join the gang, said his decision to work with the police to bring down the gang helped stop "a lot of" planned bloodshed in the old capital as it helped investigators get guns and ammunition from the hands of the gangsters without their knowing that he had switched allegiance. He told the court that he in 2018, while Bryan was behind bars, had approached police investigators to oust the gang with no prodding from anyone.
"This stands in sharp contrast… because there is no evidence that Mr [Witness Number One] was under suspicion or even wanted by the police, at least that's the evidence from the police. They didn't really know of him until he voluntarily went to the police, so to the extent that he had an interest to serve, that is to maintain his uncharged status, it has to be looked at from the standpoint that this was not a gentleman who was under suspicion," the chief justice said.
"According to the police, when they conducted their enquiries, after he in effect went to them and told them who he was, their enquiries did not reveal that he was a person of interest or that he was connected to any crime committed in the St Catherine North or any police area. So, that would suggest that there may very well be some credibility to [Witness Number One's] proposition that he just wanted to put all of this behind him and move on because at the time he went to the police there was nothing to gain from the State and the State was not looking for him," the chief justice noted.
"So, based upon the evidence, what you have as far as [Witness Number One] is concerned is someone who voluntarily went to the police and gave statements," he added while pointing out that from the evidence, it was suggested that the ex-gang member had later on been placed on "some kind of protection programme because there were expressions used such as safehouses and expenses".
"In assessing the attack on him that will also have to be taken into account," the judge said in reference to the stance taken by the defence regarding that witness.
In the meantime, in assessing the evidence as to how Witness Number Two came to be in the position to volunteer information, the chief justice pointed to an inconsistency in his evidence regarding his keeping of the financial records, and how he came to be in possession of the cash in his statement to the police, as against his testimony in court. Furthermore, the trial judge said his answers as to why he did not resume keeping his accounting records after he destroyed those that he had in 2019 following a state of emergency declared for St Catherine, for fear of them being found, will have "consequences" for his reliability and credibility.
In noting that the witness had explained that the differences in his sworn evidence as against his statements to the police could be chalked up to the fact that he was scared of the gang and did not trust the police, the chief justice said this would have to be taken into consideration in taking his evidence into account.
In the meantime, the chief justice is to resume his summation today by continuing the assessment of the identification evidence given by Witness Number Two for the gang members. Witness Number Two did not attend any identification parades but identified several of the accused while they were in the docks at the beginning of the trial, detailing his association with each.
The chief justice also addressed the allegations by the Crown that Bryan was the leader of the gang through "the say-so of the two witnesses but also on telephone recordings in which Witness Number One recorded conversations between himself and other members of the gang and the way in which they referred to Bryan showed that he was the leader" as well as a police witness who said Bryan was a person of influence and the cops had called him in regarding incidents in the Spanish Town area with which they believed he could assist in calming violence in that location.
"That evidence can't be utilised to determine whether Mr Bryan is leader of the organisation because there was really no foundation for that belief — all it means is that the police may have had that view, but they have to present material now on which you are relying to form that view to see whether there is any substance to it. So, as far as I am concerned at this stage, it was at best a belief that they had which may or may not have had any basis in reality," Justice Sykes said.
"Because of the manner in which the Crown sought to prove the existence of the criminal organisation and members of the criminal organisation, the court has to be mindful of this principle which essentially says, 'We don't adduce evidence of bad character and then turn around and say because he is of bad character he must have committed the crime,' " he stated.
The Crown, in opening its case in September of 2020, said the accused individuals which comprise the "Blackman faction" of the gang, under the supposed leadership of Andre "Blackman" Bryan, had various roles in which they acted as "killers, drivers, lookout men or watchmen, gunsmiths and foot soldiers".
According to the Crown, the accused between 2015 and 2019 carried out a range of murders, conspiracies to murder, and extortion and arson throughout the parish. The accused are being tried under the Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organisations) (Amendment) Act, commonly called the anti-gang legislation, with several facing additional charges under the Firearms Act for crimes allegedly committed between 2015 and 2019. All the accused, when arraigned on September 20 at the start of the trial, pleaded "not guilty" to the charges against them. They are charged with offences ranging from being part of a criminal organisation to murder, conspiracy to murder, arson, illegal possession of firearm and illegal possession of ammunition.