Sentencing postponed in BT shooting

After being found guilty of possessing a firearm with intent to commit an offence, Matio Dinall was not sentenced on Wednesday afternoon as expected.

Dinall, 21, had pleaded not guilty and chose to be tried by judge alone. Mr. Justice Lloyd Hibbert found that Dinall was one of two men who shot at the home of Carlos Russell in Bodden Town on the night of 29 March.

Instead of speaking in mitigation as planned, Defence Attorney David McGrath advised the court that he had just received a copy of a law that came into force seven days previously.

Mr. McGrath referred to the new law as a draconian change to the justice system and asked for time to consider it. The change, as reported previously, imposes a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years for a firearms offence.

The change also appears to be retroactive, Mr. McGrath observed. This would offend against basic sentencing principles, he said.

Crown Counsel Andre Mon Desir, who prosecuted the case, agreed to an adjournment and the judge set sentencing for Friday, 2 December.

Before reaching the verdict of guilty, Mr. Justice Hibbert summed up the evidence and reminded himself that he had to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Dinall was one of the persons who shot at the house.

He also reminded himself that the prosecution had to prove Dinall’s guilt. The defendant did not give evidence, but that was his right. The defendant did not have to prove his innocence.

The case against Dinall depended wholly on the identification of him by Carlos Russell. The defence had said Russell was either lying or mistaken. The judge also pointed out that even an honest witness can be mistaken, so he had to examine the circumstances of Russell’s observation.

Russell said he had secured his family in a back hallway and then crawled to a front window to see who was shooting at the house. He saw Phillip Watler (now deceased) with what looked like an AR15 machine gun and Matio Dinall with a nine-millimetre hand gun.

The judge looked at other evidence to see if it supported or contradicted Russell’s.

Neighbours from some 200 feet away saw two men in Russell’s yard. If Russell had remained in the back of the house, how would he know there were two men?

One neighbour also said the light was poor, but that was from a distance. Russell told the court he had personally installed 75-watt floodlights on the eaves of his house to light up the front and yard. It was by this light that he could see the men on his porch and then backing away to the road, still shooting.

A scene-of-crime officer exhibited spent shells she said she retrieved from various locations in the yard. One shell was from a 9mm pistol; ten could have been from an M16 or AR-15 rifle. This supported Russell’s description of the men’s movements.

The Defence said it was incredible that a man would crawl to the front of the house through the line of fire. The average man would have stayed in the back of the house.

Mr. Justice Hibbert said he had observed Russell’s demeanour and accepted him as a witness of truth when he said he first secured his family and then went to the front window.

The defence had questioned Russell’s eyesight, but a doctor gave evidence that his overall visual acuity was 20/20 although there was impairment to one eye.

Russell had explained that he knew Dinall from the time the defendant was a baby. He saw him grow up because Russell’s mother and Dinall’s mother lived near each other.

During the shooting, the men had worn hoods, Russell said, but their whole faces were exposed. He first saw them on his porch for six to eight seconds, but a total of 30 to 40 seconds as they backed away.

Russell said the whole incident may have lasted two or three minutes. A neighbour spoke of a series of shots and the shell locations indicated not all shots were from the same position. This pointed to the men’s movement, which would take more than a couple of seconds.

The judge found that the lighting was sufficient to make the identification and the length of time the incident lasted was long enough for Russell to see and identify the defendant.

In conclusion, the judge said he found Russell to be a truthful, honest and reliable witness and had no doubt that the person armed with the 9mm pistol was Matio Dinall.

To assist the court, Mr. Mon Desir had arranged for an aerial photo of the neighbourhood, a floor plan of Russell’s house and photographs from the scene.