Four men who were inmates at Northward Prison in 2004 were this week found not guilty of assault causing actual bodily harm to a prison officer.
The incident leading to the charge occurred on Tuesday evening, 14 September 2004. Hurricane Ivan hit Grand Cayman Saturday into Sunday, 11-12 September, causing devastation island-wide.
Jeffrey Barnes, Steve Manderson, Jude Theobalds and Jonathan Mellard were charged with an assault that left a prison officer unconscious. They pleaded not guilty and their trial began last week Monday.
Three prison officers said there was chaos at the prison around the time of the assault.
According to one or more witnesses, both for the Prosecution and Defence, there was a fire in one of the wings; inmates were vandalising an office in another wing. Some inmates were running around with shirts over their faces and carrying pieces of wood or metal.
One officer said shots were fired on the order of the Prison Director and he believed the shots were to intimidate, not warn.
The prison was using a generator at the time for electricity and outside lighting was very poor.
Jurors heard that another officer was attacked in one of the wings; his keys were taken from him and used to unlock cells and release occupants. They also heard that three or four inmates, including Manderson, protected an officer from masked inmates in another part of the compound.
During closing speeches on Monday, Defence Attorney John Furniss said the evidence against Mellard was nonexistent. Only the injured officer named Mellard and even he did not mention this defendant having any weapon. Everybody else had weapons.
In his instructions to jurors on Tuesday, Mr. Justice Seymour Panton said he was duty bound to direct them that there was insufficient evidence against Mellard and they should find him not guilty.
After the foreman delivered the verdict, the judge explained the law and summarised the evidence pertaining to Barnes, Manderson and Theobalds.
The fact that he directed a not guilty verdict in the case of Mellard did not mean the others were guilty, he emphasised. It meant there was evidence for the jurors to consider.
Mr. Justice Panton said Hurricane Ivan left devastation throughout Grand Cayman to a degree that had been almost unthinkable and it probably left many persons thoroughly traumatised.
There was no dispute that a serious disturbance took place at the prison on 14 September and an officer was beaten unconscious by inmates. Correct identification was essential. The injured officer was the key witness.
Jurors could only find the accused guilty if they believed the officer and were sure he was not mistaken and they rejected any evidence contrary to his. The judge cautioned that an honest witness can be mistaken.
The officer, who had over 20 years experience, was shift commander at the time. He had been on duty 27 hours unrelieved. The judge commented that this was a matter for jurors’ consideration – whether the officer’s powers of concentration and observation might have been adversely affected.
The officer said he saw inmates coming out of one of the wings. They were inmates who should have been locked up in the basic unit.
He said Barnes rushed forward and threw a blue crate at him, but it did not hit him. He picked up the crate and used it to block a stick that Barnes swung at him. It hit him on his right wrist. Then Theobalds hit him in the right eye with a white plastic implement, causing him temporary blindness. Then Manderson hit him below his left knee with the leg from a metal cot.
The officer said he hobbled and then felt a blow to the back of his head. He fell unconscious. The incident lasted no more than a minute.
Cross-examined, the officer said he did not recall what his attackers were wearing; he said he had a clear picture of their faces but not their clothes. He said none of the four had shirts over their head.
Another officer said some of the persons with shirts over their heads were in the group attacking the injured officer. He identified Barnes as throwing a crate.
Barnes himself gave evidence. He said he was in the punishment block. The toilet was not working, he was in water up to his knees and there was no ventilation because of the electricity problems. There had been no contact with the outside world and he didn’t know what had happened to his family.
He said he had a problem with some of the inmates. After his cell was unlocked by an inmate, he left the wing where the fire was and saw a group of inmates with shirts over their heads. He panicked and picked up the crate and threw it towards them and never stuck around to see if it struck anyone.
Theobalds also gave evidence. He had also been in the punishment block, for fighting. He was one of the last people to leave the building. Then he saw the inmate he had a problem with. He thought that inmate had come to do him something, so he ran to the back of the compound.
He was heading for the football field but ended up in an area where prisoners raised crops in grow boxes. It was dark and he felt safer there. He remained until police came and grabbed him.
Theobalds said he never struck the injured officer because the officer wasn’t one of his enemies. Later another officer boxed Theobalds and gave him a black eye, he said.
Crown Counsel Trevor Ward, who conducted the case for the Prosecution, said the defendants had acted together in a joint enterprise and each had individually inflicted blows.
Mr. Justice Panton told jurors they had to consider if the attack was a joint enterprise and they had to consider the case against each defendant separately. The verdicts did not have to be the same.
In addition to the assault, Manderson and Barnes were also charged with escaping lawful custody. They pleaded guilty before this trial.
Theobalds and Mellard pleaded not guilty to attempting to escape. The judge directed that they be found not guilty.
Theobalds’ evidence was that he was hiding.
Mellard was found inside the compound with a broken ankle. Mr. Furniss, his attorney, pointed out that no one saw him climb a fence or fall; no one heard him cry out.
Attorney James Austin-Smith defended Barnes.
Manderson was represented by Attorney Ben Tonner and Theobalds by Attorney Nicholas Dixey.