Although their trial for the murder of Estella Scott-Roberts is scheduled to start on 3 August, Kirkland Henry and Larry Prinston Ricketts still do not have attorneys to conduct their defence.
The men appeared before Justice Leighton Pusey again on Friday, one week after Attorney John Furniss received permission to come off record for Ricketts.
At that time, Attorney Ben Tonner told the judge he also was compelled to come off record for Henry. But Justice Pusey asked him to hold on another week to see if something could be worked out.
Mr. Tonner had submitted that Henry should be represented by more experienced senior counsel ‘so that justice is done and seen to be done’ because of the seriousness of a murder charge. He referred to the resources of the Crown in prosecuting the case and said the defendant should have ‘equality of arms’.
Henry also faces charges of abduction, robbery and rape in connection with the same incident. However, according to the Criminal Procedure Code, no other charge may be included in the same indictment with murder.
In his initial request to come off record, Mr. Tonner explained there are no Queen’s Counsel in Cayman who undertake criminal work – whether for financial reasons, he could not say. Neither had he been able to find a suitably qualified junior counsel willing and able to take the case..
Mr. Tonner said he had applied to have legal aid for a QC but had been refused. ‘This puts me in a difficult position. Each lawyer must consider whether he is sufficiently experienced to undertake this particular kind of work,’ he pointed out. Against this background he concluded that he was compelled to come off record.
He said Kirkland Henry was disappointed, since he expected that legal aid would have been stretched to afford a QC. Mr. Tonner noted that he and Mr. Furniss were asked in November to put in writing why they needed leading counsel. The matter was considered by Chief Justice Anthony Smellie and was refused.
Mr. Tonner said for him to continue with Henry’s representation would conflict with his ethical obligations. Not coming off record meant not giving the Legal Aid Board time to organise alternative representation and not giving Henry time with his attorney.
Justice Pusey said Mr. Tonner seemed to have the confidence of his client and the problems were not of his doing. It seemed to him they were logistical. He asked if Mr. Tonner did not need the court’s permission to come off record.
Mr. Tonner said no — he was not required to undertake work at legal aid rates.
Mr. Furniss’ position was different. He advised the court that his client, Ricketts, had written him a letter saying they did not see eye to eye, so he did not want Mr. Furniss as his lawyer.
Mr. Furniss indicated he would endorse Mr. Tonner’s comments about legal aid.
On Friday, Justice Pusey told Mr. Tonner, ‘I was perhaps a little too optimistic to think we could overcome the difficulties within the short time available.’ He regretted he had not been able to move the matter forward.
The judge then asked if any progress had been made with Ricketts getting an attorney. Crown counsel Kirsty-Ann Gun said she did not know if anybody had been assigned and rickets said nobody had come to see him.
The judge said he would continue to try for another seven days to see what he could do. He thought 12 June might be the last opportunity to have attorneys in place. If there is still a state of uncertainty, alternative arrangements might have to be made for scheduling the trial.
Ricketts told the judge he wanted a certain attorney to represent him. The attorney, who was in court on another matter, indicated there would be a problem with availability. The judge told Rickets he could not force the attorney to take the case because sometimes he has other cases at the particular time.
Ricketts and Henry, both in their 20s, have been in custody since their arrest on Monday, 27 October.
Mrs. Scott-Roberts, 33, was last seen leaving Deckers’ Restaurant around 11.15pm on 10 October. Her burned out SUV was found the next day in the West Bay Dykes. It had been set on fire and had human remains inside.
Mrs. Scott-Roberts worked as communications manager at Cable & Wireless. Before taking that post, she was involved in the creation and development of the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre.