Murder conviction overturned

William Martinez-McLaughlin will not have to face a third trial for murder, following the decisions of the Court of Appeal on Friday to allow his appeal against conviction and not order a new trial. 

Martinez, now 35, had been convicted twice by separate Grand Court juries of the murder of Brian Rankine Carter, 20. With the appeal allowed and the conviction quashed, Martinez was acquitted and discharged. 

Brian’s body was found lifeless and naked in the early hours of Saturday, 17 May, 2008, in a vacant lot in the vicinity of McField Lane in George Town. A pathologist testified that 48 chop or puncture wounds had been inflicted. 

Martinez pleaded not guilty to the murder, saying his co-worker, Jason Hinds, was the real killer. The evidence was that Martinez and Hinds had been in East End after work, with Hinds as the driver of the company van. Brian met the men in a bar and was subsequently given a ride back to George Town.  

Martinez was tried for the murder and Hinds, who had pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact, gave evidence in his trial. A Grand Court jury found Martinez guilty in July 2009 and he was given the mandatory sentence of imprisonment for life. Hinds, a Jamaican national, received a term of three and a half years imprisonment and deported after serving this sentence. 

In August 2010, attorneys for Martinez successfully appealed his conviction, arguing that Justice Alexander Henderson had misdirected the jurors by his answer to a question they submitted after retiring to consider their verdict. The Court of Appeal agreed that the verdict was unsafe and ordered a new trial. 

That trial was held in April 2011 before Justice Charles Quin. Again Hinds gave evidence. Martinez, who did not give evidence in his first trial, did in his second trial. Each man blamed the other and said the motive involved drugs. A jury again found Martinez guilty. 

Last week, Nicholas Dean QC, instructed by attorney Nicholas Hoffman, argued against this second conviction. One of the points he raised was the position of Hinds as a Crown witness. He said there was never transparency about what occurred between the police and Hinds that led him to make a witness statement and agree to give evidence against Martinez. In response, Andrew Radcliffe QC countered the suggestion that there was any agreement or deal not to charge Hinds with murder in exchange for his evidence against Martinez. What in fact happened, he explained, was that police had heard Hinds’ account of what happened that night. They then received the report of the blood spatter expert and Hinds’ account was consistent with the expert’s findings. It was then that the decision was made to charge Hinds as an accessory. 

This ground of appeal did not figure in the decision announced by the president of the Court of Appeal, Sir John Chadwick, on Friday afternoon. Instead, in reasons to be handed down later, the court agreed with Mr. Dean’s submission that the jury had been misdirected. 

The court ruled that Justice Quin, after directing the jury that it would be dangerous to convict on the evidence of Hinds in the absence of some evidence that confirmed or supported important aspects of what he had said, did not go on to say what evidence was capable of support and what evidence was not capable of being supportive. 

In these circumstances, the jury was left to find for themselves what evidence they considered was capable of being supporting evidence and whether they believed it, and they were not sufficiently guided as to what evidence they could not take into account for that purpose. For those reasons the court was satisfied that the jury verdict could not be regarded as safe and the appeal must be allowed. 

The president, together with Justice Elliott Mottley and Justice Sir Anthony Campbell, then heard arguments about whether they should order a new trial. After retiring to consider their decision, the judges returned and President Chadwick made the announcement. He said the details of Brian Rankine Carter’s murder were gruesome and there was strong public interest that whoever committed this murder should be brought to justice. In this case, on two occasions, the judge’s direction to the jury was found to be insufficient on the crucial question of whether they could safely accept the evidence of Jason Hinds. To order another retrial would put the defendant in jeopardy, the court said. 

In this case, on two occasions, the judge’s direction to the jury was found to be insufficient on the crucial question of whether they could safely accept the evidence of Jason Hinds. 

Cayman Islands Courthouse

The Law Courts Building in downtown George Town. – Photo: File

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