Murder verdict appeal won

Court orders retrial in death of Brian Rankine-Carter

William David Martinez-McLaughlin
won his appeal of a murder conviction after Defence Attorney Mark Tomassi argued
on Tuesday that the trial judge had misdirected the jury.

The Court of Appeal sent the matter
back to Grand Court for retrial. Defence Attorney Nick Dixey said it might be
mentioned as early as next week. Meanwhile, his client remained in custody.

Martinez, 33, was convicted in July
2009 for the murder of Brian Rankine-Carter, 20, whose body was found in a
vacant lot along McField Lane in George Town in the early hours of 17 May,
2008.

Mr. Tomassi, who represented
Martinez along with Mr. Dixey in the trial, said the misdirection came after
Justice Alexander Henderson gave the jurors his instructions and then sent them
out to begin deliberating.  Shortly
afterwards, the jurors sent back a question concerning the evidence of the
Crown’s main witness, Jason Hinds.

The jury was told on the first day
of the trial that Hinds had pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact
of murder but had not been sentenced.

The jury’s question was: “When
attempting to reach a verdict, can we discount Hinds’ testimony and reach a
verdict based on forensic evidence?”

Mr. Tomassi reminded the court
Justice Henderson’s original directions: that the sole issue in the case was
whether the Crown had made them sure that Hinds’ account of what happened was
true.

“If you are sure that Mr. Hinds was
telling the truth, then you should find Mr. Martinez-McLaughlin guilty as
charged. If you believe Mr. Hinds is not telling the truth, you must find Mr.
Martinez-McLaughlin not guilty. If you are not sure whether Mr. Hinds is telling
the truth about this assault, then you must find Mr. Martinez-McLaughlin not
guilty.

“You may only find the defendant
guilty if you are sure that Jason Hinds is telling the truth in his description
of the assault by Mr. Martinez-McLaughlin upon Mr. Carter. Accordingly, you
must weigh and assess the credibility of Mr. Hinds,” the judge said.

Mr. Tomassi described this
direction as clear, unequivocal and identifying precisely the issue for the
jurors. They had been told that, if they were going to find Martinez not
guilty, it was because they did not believe Hinds outright or else because they
could not be sure he told the truth. If they did convict, it was because they
believed Hinds and the forensic evidence supported them in their acceptance of
his evidence.

However, when the jury asked its
question, the judge failed to answer it, Mr. Tomassi argued.

He cited Justice Henderson’s reply,
according to the trial transcript: “I do not consider it permissible at this
stage for me to say very much in answer to that question. You must consider all
of the evidence.

“You must take into account all of
the evidence of Jason Hinds, all of the evidence which bears upon his
credibility one way or the other, and you must also take into account the forensic
evidence in coming to your ultimate conclusion as to whether the Crown has made
you sure that Mr. Martinez-McLaughlin committed this crime. That is all I can
say on that subject.”

Mr. Tomassi pointed out that the
judge did not direct the jury to decide the case in accordance with his earlier
instructions, nor did he remind the jury of those earlier instructions.

Court President Sir John Chadwick
wondered if the question for the appeal court was whether the judge’s answer to
the jury’s question detracted from the direction he had already given, so as to
leave jurors in a state of confusion.

Solicitor General Cheryll Richards
argued that the judge’s answer was appropriate in the context of all he had
said earlier.

Justice Chadwick announced the
decision after adjourning to confer with Justices Elliott Mottley and Abdullah
Conteh. He said full reasons would be put into writing.

After the trial, Hinds was
sentenced to three-and-a-half years’ imprisonment. Justice Henderson said at
the time that, because Hinds was not Caymanian, he would be recommended for
deportation after serving his sentence. A senior prison official confirmed this
week that Hinds was no longer in custody and that he had been deported.

Mr. Dixey’s firm Mourant issued a
statement after Tuesday’s decision. It said their client was understandably
relieved that the court had allowed the appeal.

“The Court of Appeal has patiently
and judicially considered the arguments put forward by the parties and
thoroughly reviewed the relevant material…. We await to see what will unfold
going forward.”

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