Alrick Peddie, 25, was fatally shot in March 2010
Three men accused of murdering Alrick Ricardo Peddie last year were found not guilty by Justice Karl Harrison, who read his judgment into the record on Monday.
Robert Aaron Crawford, 18, Jose Guadalupe Sanchez, 24, and Roger Deward Bush, 36, chose to be tried by judge alone. They were charged after Mr. Peddie died of gunshot wounds he received on the afternoon of 24 March, 2010. The shooting occurred in a yard on Willie Farrington Drive in West Bay. Bush was alleged to be the driver of the vehicle that came into the yard moments before Mr. Peddie was shot; Sanchez and Crawford were alleged to be passengers.
After the verdict, Bush and Sanchez left the courtroom with jubilant friends and relatives. Crawford returned to custody, but was released Monday afternoon after appearing in Summary Court on two traffic matters.
In his decision, Justice Harrison said the Crown had not discharged its burden to satisfy him that the defendants were present at the scene and killed Mr. Peddie.
When trial began on 27 June, Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryll Richards accepted that the case stood on the correctness of the identification of the defendants by the eye witness.
The judge agreed that an honest witness can be mistaken. He also noted that the identifications were made under difficult and stressful circumstances.
He recognised that the witness, Michael Conrad Ebanks, had undergone a stressful and exacting experience in coming forward to give evidence in this case. “I also bear in mind that he was initially reluctant to make a report to the police because of fear and his belief that the police could not protect him.” Mr. Ebanks made his report two days later on the basis of anonymity, which was subsequently removed.
Mr. Ebanks told the court that after he recognised the men in the car he said something to Mr. Peddie and then turned and ran to the back of the yard. In a matter of seconds, he heard gunshots. When he returned less than a minute later he saw Mr. Peddie on the ground.
Justice Harrison said he had carefully watched the witness when he gave his evidence and throughout his searching but fair cross-examination. He concluded that Mr. Ebanks had a selective relationship with the truth and his evidence was filled with inconsistencies, contradictions and implausibilities.
The judge found he could not place significant reliance on the witness to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt as to his account. He said he had a doubt as to whether Mr. Ebanks really had a good opportunity to see who the men were.
Some of the problems he identified had to do with the amount of time Mr. Ebanks said he had to view the occupants of the car. He initially said five to 10 seconds, but then said 10 to 15 seconds. He had said he saw the three men, whom he knew for more than 10 years, through the front windscreen that was untinted. Shown a picture of the car with tint halfway down the windscreen, Mr. Ebanks had agreed that was the car, but said he had crouched to get a clear view. Crouching was something he failed to mention to police.
He gave other details in court that were not in his statement to police, such as seeing Bush and Sanchez moving inside the car in such a way as to give him a better opportunity to see them and the men hesitating inside the car before its doors opened.
The judge noted Mr. Ebanks’ evidence that he had told his mother, his wife and Mr. Peddie’s wife what had happened that day. But Mrs. Peddie said she did not know who killed her husband. The judge said he accepted that she was not told who killed Mr. Peddie.
He compared Mr. Ebanks’ evidence with an account given to police by a relative who said he had overheard Mr. Ebanks telling family members about the incident. The information of the relative, Andrew Forrest, was given to a detective sergeant who made notes. The notes and a statement by Mr. Forrest confirming their accuracy were read into evidence. Mr. Forrest was not called to appear in court and the judge said it was a matter of how much weight he would give to the statement.
According to this statement, Mr. Ebanks did say that the three men in the car were wearing masks; in court, Mr. Ebanks flatly denied that. His evidence was that Sanchez was wearing sunglasses and had a shirt or towel on his head in such a way that Mr. Ebanks could still see his face.
Mr. Ebanks said he spoke to two men who came to the scene to try to help Mr. Peddie. He said he named the men he saw in the car and asked if they had seen the men also and they said yes. One of the men, Jerru Anderson, told the court he didn’t hear this and did not recall seeing Mr. Ebanks as he was attending to Mr. Peddie. Mr. Anderson acknowledged he had been drinking earlier in the day.
The judge said the problem with Mr. Ebanks’ evidence was compounded by the lie he admitted telling – that no one else was in the yard, when in fact his brother was there. The judge did not accept his explanation that he wanted to keep his brother out of it.
Justice Harrison said the eye witness evidence was all there was against Bush and Sanchez.
Mrs. Peddie had told the court that Bush came to her yard after the shooting to ask who was shot and whether he was dead; the judge said he was not satisfied this supported the Crown’s case.
The Crown brought evidence of Crawford’s DNA being on the driver’s door of the two-door car used in the shooting, and of gunshot residue found in the back seat, where Mr. Ebanks said he had seen Crawford sitting.
The judge said he agreed with the defence position that the DNA was not “time specific”. Further, the owner of the car had agreed he gave lifts to strangers and it was possible he had given Crawford a lift sometime before the shooting incident. The owner also told the court that the car’s interior had not been vacuumed for some time.
No gunshot residue was found on clothing taken from the defendants’ residences.
There was no legal requirement for the Crown to prove motive and no evidence was put forward to establish a reason for the killing.
Bush was represented by Attorneys Timothy Spencer and Nicola Moore; Sanchez by Orlando Pownall and James Buchanan, Crawford by Margeta Facey-Clarke and Trevor Burke.
Crown Counsel Candia James assisted Ms Richards.