Obeah charge not proven in court

Possession of certain harmless items cannot by itself prove that the person possessing them is practising obeah, Defence Attorney John Furniss argued in Summary Court recently.

Last week, Magistrate Nova Hall handed down her verdict in the trial of Byran Buriss. In finding him not guilty, she said the only evidence that linked the items to obeah came from a police officer, who said the items had aroused suspicion.

The officer made no reference to any previous experience that would have led to his suspicion being raised. The magistrate said she could not take judicial notice that the items were necessarily connected with obeah.

The defendant was accused of practising obeah on 18 October 2004.

At that time, after Hurricane Ivan, there was a curfew in Grand Cayman from 11pm to 5am. Burris was seen driving around 2.30am and officers on patrol stopped him.

He was taken to the temporary police headquarters, where procedures included checking items in his possession.

The cash in his wallet included a folded $100 note which, when unfolded, was found to contain a piece of garlic clove. There was also a piece of brown masking tape with handwritten symbols and words, with directions to mix certain ingredients and spray on a car.

As a result, a search warrant was obtained for the defendant’s residence. There, bottles of rosewater and various oils were found. Police also found a plastic bag containing a powdery substance and notes to the effect, keep off police and intruder.

Asked about the substance Burris said it was healing powder.

Also in his possession was a lucky numbers book.

A charge of betting at a common gaming house was dismissed in June.

Mr. Furniss told the court that Buriss, 43, always admitted breach of curfew. He had told officers at the time that he was dropping his girlfriend at her home. He had no criminal intent and was not observed near any particular buildings.

The magistrate imposed a fine of $350 for the curfew breach.

Obeah defined

According to the Penal Code, a person practising or dealing in obeah means a person who, to effect any fraudulent or unlawful purpose, or for gain, or for the purpose of frightening any person, uses or pretends to use occult means, or pretends to possess any supernatural power or knowledge.

Another part of the same section states that whoever is found in possession of any instrument of obeah shall be deemed, unless the contrary is proved, to be a person practising obeah at the time of such possession.