After hearing two days of legal arguments, the Cayman Islands Court of Appeal overturned the convictions of Patrick Elbert McField, Osbourne Wilfred Douglas and Brandon Leslie Ebanks for the 2009 murder of Omar Barton Samuels.
The appellants, all in their mid-20s, were convicted after trial by jury in September 2010. They were given the only sentence available in Cayman, which is imprisonment for life.
On Tuesday afternoon, Court President Justice John Chadwick read the decision reached by him and Justices Elliot Mottley and A. Campbell. He said the convictions were quashed and the sentences set aside. He directed a verdict of acquittal for each man.
The president said the judges would put their reasons in writing. He did explain the appeals were allowed on the one ground they had in common. He said the judge who presided at the trial, Justice Charles Quin, erred in law when he failed to withdraw the case from the jury following defence submissions of “no case to answer” after the prosecution had finished presenting all of its evidence.
The court did not order a retrial. The Caymanian Compass will carry the Court of Appeal’s reasons for acquittal when they are released.
After the announcement of the acquittals, attorneys asked if the men might be released. Justice Chadwick said that was a matter for the registrar. Within minutes, McField and Ebanks were walking away from the court house with friends. Douglas, however, was arrested within the court house and kept in custody. Attorney Clyde Allen said he did not have the details of the allegation at that time, but Douglas was to be interviewed on Wednesday. Mr. Allen pointed out that, although Douglas was arrested, he had not been charged.
The fatal shooting of Omar Samuels occurred on the night of Sunday, 4 July, 2009. It was a holiday weekend, with Monday being Constitution Day. The shooting occurred in an area off McField Lane in George Town. A trail of blood showed that he left the area where he was shot and made his way to an open area. Crowds of people were nearby, in the vicinity of a popular restaurant. The first call received by 911 came from someone in the crowd around 1.01am.
Mr. Samuels died from loss of blood after a bullet hit a large artery in his thigh. At trial, attorneys for the defendants argued the three men were not at the scene of the shooting and were not even together that night. The Crown called two teen-aged girls who gave their accounts of what happened when they saw the three men with Mr. Samuels.
At the appeal, attorney Trevor Burke presented his argument first, on behalf of McField. He submitted the Crown’s two main witnesses gave a version of events that was inconsistent and irreconcilable with the physical evidence.
He said the forensic evidence that the shooting occurred in one area was so strong that no jury properly directed could believe it happened in another area. He quoted a well-known principle: Where the judge comes to the conclusion that the prosecution evidence, taken at its highest, is such that a jury properly directed could not properly convict upon it, it is his duty to stop the case when such a submission is made.
His main argument was based on forensic, or physical, evidence. He said the position of five bullet casings near each other indicated the position of the shooter. Further, the trail of blood spots, if the girls were to be believed, would mean that Mr. Samuels would have had to climb over a fence because his blood was found on one side, and then he would have had to climb the fence again because that was where the trial of blood led out to where he eventually collapsed.
Mr. Burke asked how feasible that was, given that Mr. Samuels was shot in the leg and his left arm had been cut off several years earlier.
The court had maps of the area and photographs to refer to in following the arguments.
Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryll Richards responded to the appeal arguments pointing out that the girls never claimed to have seen the entire incident. She was assisted by Crown Consel Tricia Hutchinson.
Mr. Burke was assisted by Attorney Ben Tonner.
The other attorneys adopted his basic argument and added points specific to their client. Attorney Alistair Malcom, instructed by Mr. Allen, spoke on behalf of Douglas. Ebanks was represented by Attorneys Nicholas Rhodes and Nick Dixey.