Last-ditch efforts are being made to secure an attorney to represent Andre “Blackman” Bryan, the reputed leader of one side of the St Catherine-based Klansman gang.
Bryan is the only one of the 32 alleged members of the gang without legal representation for the trial set to start next Monday and which is being regarded as a one-of-a-kind case in the Caribbean.
At the same time, defence attorneys linked to the trial have indicated they are not pleased about the pay package and had tried to be released from the case.
Bryan and his alleged cronies, some of whom are relatives, are being tried under the anti-gang legislation for being part of the outfit which the police in 2018 said accounted for 78 of the 134 murders committed in 2017 alone due to internal feuding.
Yesterday, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Paula Llewellyn, speaking during the official opening of the Home Circuit Court for the Michaelmas Term, indicated that the Crown's house was in order as far as the matter was concerned.
“Four prosecutors have been assigned and the Crown is ready,” she told the opening ceremony presided over by Chief Justice Bryan Sykes.
The failure of Bryan to secure an attorney, the Jamaica Observer was told by a member of the defence team, was the major fly in the ointment, added to discontent about the salary package among attorneys retained as legal aid counsel.
“Chances are it might not start on Monday, but it will definitely be this month. The main issue, I think, will be because of the leader; he has not retained legal counsel. We are ready for the most part, whether it starts on Monday is for the trial judge to decide, from my understanding,” one lawyer told the Observer.
In the meantime, some defence attorneys continue to seethe and are restive the Observer was told.
“Many of us would have made an application in court some months ago to ask the court's leave to remove us from the matter and the court refused to do so, saying that the basis on which our application was made was not compelling enough. So we are pretty much locked into the matter,” the individual said.
The tab for the lawyers is one which, the Observer was told, raised hackles during Cabinet deliberations with reference being made to the gang trial involving Uchence Wilson which ended in October last year and stretched across nine months. In that case, 24 accused initially faced the court, 15 were subsequently acquitted. That matter, the Observer has learnt, carried a price tag of some $60 million.
The purse strings for the pending trial have been tightened, the Observer has been told.
“The offer was $300,000 for the first month for senior attorneys and $150,000 per month after. There is also a cap, so the amounts paid cannot go beyond a million dollars, but we have no control over that [the cap, given that the trial will stretch for months]. For junior lawyers the fee is $200,000 for the first month and $100,000 for each month after,” the Observer was told.
“So you are correct to say lawyers are restive. We go back to court tomorrow. There are some lawyers who do not want to go, but the downside of that is being held in contempt by the chief justice,” the individual stated.
The Observer has, in the meantime, learnt that one legal luminary who featured highly in the Uchence Wilson matter has been approached to represent Bryan. The individual, when contacted by the Observer, declined to speak on the record but confirmed the information.
Earlier this year, well over a dozen alleged members of the gang, who were among 50 individuals originally arrested and charged under the anti-gang legislation, walked free as the evidence against them did not meet the threshold for prosecution.
In 2019, Tesha Miller, who police label as leader of the other faction of the Klansman gang, was convicted for orchestrating the 2008 murder of then Jamaica Urban Transit Company Chairman Douglas Chambers.
Bryan, who was accused of being the hitman, was acquitted of the killing in 2016.