Attorneys explain defence of duress
During their three-week trial by judge alone, Allen Sywell Kelly and Charles Felix Webster never denied taking part in a kidnapping for ransom in the sum of US$500,000 last year. They told the court that they acted out of fear for their lives and the safety of their families.
On Wednesday, Justice Karl Harrison thanked attorneys for their closing addresses and assistance during the hearing of evidence. As a visiting judge, he indicated, he was scheduled to be here only until the end of the month. He did not know what other matters he will be scheduled to hear in the next two weeks. Therefore, he could not say when he would be able to deliver his verdicts. He said he would try to do it by the end of March, but if not, he would have to return in early April to complete the matter.
Attorneys Clyde Allen and Ben Tonner presented a defence of duress for Kelly and Webster. They said the two men took part in the abduction and wrongful confinement of Talbert Tyson Tatum on 18-19 March, 2010, because each had been threatened with a gun and told that his family would be harmed.
The threats allegedly came primarily from Wespie Mullings, a co-accused. Mullings earlier pleaded guilty and gave evidence for the Crown in this trial. He denied having a gun and said he did not threaten the other men; he said he never made anybody do anything they didn’t want to do.
A fourth accused, Richard Hurlstone, absconded in December and was reportedly in his native Honduras. He is Mr. Tatum’s brother-in-law and had a roofing company that worked closely with Tyson Construction Company, which is owned by Mr. Tatum’s parents. Hurlstone was said to be the mastermind of the kidnapping plot.
Kelly, who came from Honduras in 2008, worked for Hurlstone.
Webster came to Cayman from Honduras in March 2010 to work for Mullings, who also did construction work.
Mr. Tatum, 23, was lured to North Side on the pretext of someone there having wave runners needing repair. He was met by Webster, who directed him to a house for which Mullings was caretaker while the owner was off Island. There Mr. Tatum was overpowered by Webster, Kelly and Mullings. After more than 24 hours in captivity, he was able to escape.
During their trial, Kelly’s evidence was that, after an initial planning meeting, Mullings threatened to kill anybody who backed out and, after a second meeting, put a gun to his face.
Summing up Kelly’s defence, Mr. Allen said, “That was what was on his mind.” The defence of duress meant the judge had to ask himself, “Would a reasonable person of his age and background be driven to act as he did? Would he feel he had no other option?” Mr. Allen pointed out that Hurlstone and Kelly came from the same village in Honduras, so Hurlstone would know where Kelly’s children were.
Webster also told the court that Mullings had put a gun to his face. He said Mullings told him he could sweep Webster and his family out by paying somebody $200. “From that point, Mr. Webster’s will was broken,” Mr. Tonner said. It was common ground that Webster was not told of the abduction plan before he came to Cayman.
Solicitor General Cheryll Richards summed up the case for the prosecution before the defence made their closing addresses. She said the court should reject the defence of duress. She pointed out that neither man ever said anything about a gun until their trial. There had been talk about guns, she agreed, but no other witness had seen any gun. Two other men, who gave evidence for the Crown, said they had been at an early meeting about the planned kidnapping. They had backed out and had not suffered any adverse consequences.
Kelly and Webster both had opportunities to take evasive action and did not do so, Ms Richards submitted. They were willing participants motivated by financial gain.
Mr. Tonner pointed out that once the defence of duress was raised, the Crown had to prove duress did not apply.