by Cato Rand
So Jamaicaʼs latest version of the “trial of the century” is now over and dancehall kingpin Vbyz Kartel has been found guilty of the murder of Clive “Lizard” Williams. According to prosecutors he was murdered because of missing guns. With the absence of a dead body, the prosecution relied heavily on the testimony of an alleged eye witness Llamar Chow, evidence gleaned from cell phones of Kartel and his co accused, text messages sent by ʻLizardʼ as well as trace evidence collected at the supposed scene of the crime.
The defence team in their attempts to counter punch alleged corruption by police investigators and questioned the credibility of the main prosecution witness, as they tried to establish reasonable doubt. An eleven member jury, after deliberating for approximately 2 hours returned a 10-1 majority guilty verdict for Kartel and three of his co-accused. One co-accused was found not guilty.
Numerous commentators including the Director of Public Prosecution, Police Commissioner, Minister of National Security have remarked inter alia that the proceedings of the trial and its conclusion with a guilty verdict are proof positive of the competence of Jamaicaʼs justice system. I beg to differ. I would proffer the diametric opposite.
Not being in attendance at the trial (supposedly the longest murder trial in Jamaican history), I had to rely on media reports and unless much has been “lost in translation” I do not think that based on the evidence presented, a jury could have met for approximately 2 hours to examine the offerings presented in a 65 day trial (Judge Lennox Campbell spent all of 6 days to do his summary) and then return a guilty verdict.
Clearly jurors had long decided that the ‘Worl Boss’ had to be sent away and they were not going to objectively examine the evidence presented. I guess they were exercising their “common sense” as urged by Judge Campbell. One is left to speculate whether the jurors saw Kartel as this corrupting influence (bleached skin, tattoos, songs glorifying guns, gratuitous violence and casual sex, etc.) just south of the devil incarnate and – like Leonidas at the pass of Thermopylae – they acted as guardians of Jamaicaʼs moral compass.
But jurors are not members of the court of public opinion they are sitting in a Court of Law – the Supreme Court to be exact and the evidence presented must be beyond reasonable doubt to result in a conviction. I do not think a jury meeting for a mere 2 hours could have examined all the evidence presented to see if it met that standard.
The defence team revealed major discrepancies in the time line of the alleged crime which I do not think were adequately countered by the prosecution. The police had also used Kartelʼs phone while it was in their possession. An action which I suspect would have resulted in the collapse of the Crownʼs case in other jurisdictions.
Of particular concern must also be the conduct of the presiding judge. He did not come across as an impartial arbitrator but palpably demonstrated bias towards the prosecution. He, for example, repeatedly refused to include timestamps of audio and video evidence during his summary and I think Kartel and his lawyers have a very good chance of the verdict being overturned in the Court of Appeal where matters of law will be scrutinized.
Like most objective Jamaicans I am of the opinion that Kartel is responsible for the disappearance, if not death of “Lizard”. But we must apply the evidence presented, not our feelings, in arriving at a verdict. For investigators, prosecutors and members of the public to claim victory in this high profile case is unfortunate as this will only further delay the desperately needed reforms to improve our ailing justice system.
I can recall during my sojourn at high school occasions when my teacher of Mathematics would remark that the answer is correct but the steps followed are wrong. Such action may be excusable in the solving of problems in Mathematics but we must not allow this practice to characterize our criminal justice system.
By the way what has become of Dawn Ritch, former Jamaica Gleaner columnist?