Police ‘lose’ murder evidence

Police blunders dominate day five

Defence lawyers in the murder trial of William McLaughlin Martinez spent much of Monday trying to establish what happened to key items of evidence that police have supposedly lost.

Defence Attorney Mark Tomassi, for Martinez, repeatedly grilled police officers about the whereabouts of a machete and knife belonging to Jason Hinds – the man the defence team says really killed Brian Rankine.

Mr. Tomassi also questioned the whereabouts of a police video, apparently showing Hinds pointing out where Martinez allegedly disposed of evidence after the murder. Mr. Tomassi said the video appears to have gone missing or has been destroyed.

Martinez is charged with the murder of 20-year-old Brain Rankine-Carter, whose naked and mutilated body was found in a parking lot on McField Lane, in George Town, in the early hours of Saturday, 17 May, 2008.

Hinds, a Jamaican national, admits being with Martinez and Rankine at the time of the killing and says he saw Martinez attack Rankine with a cutlass, ‘chopping like he was crazy’. Hinds has pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of being an accessory after the fact of murder and is on bail awaiting sentencing on that charge.

Martinez’ lawyers say Hinds was only able to lay the blame for the murder on their client with the help of Royal Cayman Islands Police Service Detective Sergeant Joseph Wright, who they claim is a family friend of Hinds from Jamaica. They have claimed Sgt. Wright interfered with evidence and helped Hinds ‘concoct’ his story. Sgt. Wright was due to give evidence in the case Tuesday.

Mr. Tomassi told the court Monday the machete, taken from Hinds’ bedroom the day after the murder, simply ‘turned up’ in court last Friday, four days into the trial.

Mr. Tomassi has speculated that Hinds could have used either the machete or the knife as a murder weapon and Hinds has said he did use the machete to bury his blood-stained clothes.

The machete was never sent for any type of laboratory analysis and a chain of custody receipt, which should record who has handled the exhibit at what time, only has one entry on it – from last Friday, Mr. Tomassi said.

The defence attorney said rules about recording what is done with evidence are in place not just to protect prisoners, but to ensure police officers cannot later be accused of tampering with evidence.

Detective Sergeant Marcia Codner, from the Scenes of Crime Department, told the court she and her colleague, Zoan Marin, were presented with a number of items taken from Hinds’ Bodden Town apartment just after the murder, at a time when police were still treating Hinds as a murder suspect.

Echoing the earlier evidence of Ms Marin, she said there was no machete and no knife among those items. If there had of been ‘it would have been exhibited and it would have been part of the inquiry,’ she said.

Mr. Tomassi told the court a note on the evidence bag the machete was in when it appeared in court Friday said ‘examined by SOC (Scenes of Crime) – no evidence of blood.’

Mr. Tomassi asked Sgt. Codner: ‘Seeing you claim to have never have seen that article, can you explain why you are said to have looked at it and decided it was of no evidential value?’

‘I didn’t,’ Sgt. Codner said. ‘I wouldn’t have said that,’ she said, adding that the machete could have had blood on it not noticeable to the naked eye and that it could also have contained other clues, like DNA evidence.

That evidence was contradicted later in the day by Detective Constable Richard Francis, who insisted a machete and knife were among the items taken from Hinds’ house and given to the Scenes of Crime officers.

Mr. Francis said he saw Sgt. Codner and Officer Marin inspect the items. While the machete would have been amongst those items, he said he could not specifically recall Ms Codner looking at the machete.

Mr. Tomassi asked the officer if he was lying to the court.

‘No,’ he replied. ‘All the items were taken from his room were taken to the station where Scenes of Crime inspected them,’ he said.

‘Someone in this case is lying,’ Mr. Tomassi insisted. ‘Either it is you or it is a Scenes of Crime officer.’

‘I am not lying sir,’ Mr. Francis said.

Detective Francis was also asked when Hinds stopped being a suspect in the police murder investigation.

‘To date, he (Hinds) is still a suspect to me,’ Mr. Francis testified. ‘As far as my knowledge, he is still a suspect in this murder.’

The day’s final witness was Police Constable Mark Luke, a marine officer that recovered items in the ocean at High Rock, including a white marino, an iPod and a Nintendo DS.

The items were found in the area Hinds claims Martinez threw evidence after the killing. The defence team says Hinds disposed of evidence at High Rock, after dropping Martinez at home after the slaying.

‘Someone in this case is lying. Either it is you or it is a Scenes of Crime officer.’

Mark Tomassi, Defence Attorney

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