Top stories for 2012 Judge-alone murder verdicts upheld

The Cayman Islands Court of Appeal upheld three murder convictions during 2012 and overturned one other. The one overturned was on the basis of the trial judge’s misdirection to the jury; the three upheld were in judge-alone trials.

The Court of Appeal is the highest court in the local structure. Criminal matters start in Summary Court; the most serious of them – such as rape and robbery – are sent to the Grand Court, which also hears appeals of Summary Court decisions.

Some decisions and verdicts of the Grand Court are appealed, and that is where the Court of Appeal comes in. The ultimate appeal court for the Cayman Islands, as a British Overseas Territory, is the Privy Council in London.

In 2012, the Privy Council declined to hear an appeal by the two men convicted of murdering activist Estella Scott Roberts in 2008. Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryll Richards received confirmation in July that an application by Kirkland Henry and Larry Prinston Ricketts was refused “because the application does not raise an arguable point of law of general public importance”.

Further, the committee pointed out that the case had already been the subject of a judicial decision – by Chief Justice Anthony Smellie in Grand Court in February 2010 – and had been reviewed on appeal, by the Cayman Islands Court of Appeal. The victim was abducted, taken to a lonely location, raped, robbed and suffocated. Her car was then set on fire, with her body in it. The court affirmed the sentences of imprisonment for life.

Mrs. Scott Roberts, 33, was known in the community for her involvement with the Women’s Resource Centre, the Crisis Centre and the Cayman Islands National Policy for Gender Equality.

In November, the Court of Appeal issued its judgment in the appeals of Leonard Antonio Ebanks and Raziel Jeffers, dismissing both. The matters were dealt with together because of an argument put forward by attorneys for both men: that the conviction was unsafe and unsatisfactory because Justice Charles Quin should not have been the judge for their trial after they elected to be tried by a judge without a jury.

The argument was based on the fact that Justice Quin had dealt with the Crown’s applications for Witness Anonymity Orders in preparing for the trial of Devon Anglin, also accused of murder. Material placed before Justice Quin included a “police risk assessment – why the witness’s fears are reasonable” and this assessment made reference to both Jeffers and Ebanks, with allegations against them.

Each man submitted that, on the basis of a perception of bias, Justice Quin ought to have disqualified himself from sitting as judge alone after seeing that prejudicial material. The proposed test was whether an impartial, fair-minded and informed observer would conclude that there was a real possibility of unfairness.

In Jeffers’ case, it was further argued that Justice Quin had heard prejudicial and untested evidence about him during another defendant’s trial.

The Court of Appeal noted that judges would treat as “self-evident” the ability of a trial judge to put out of his mind material that is not in evidence in the trial with which he is concerned. This would be because of the judge’s training, experience and adherence to his judicial oath.

But the test is not what a judge would say – the test is what the fair-minded and informed observer would say. The court cited precedents from other countries in which such a person was described as not a lawyer, but someone aware of the legal traditions and culture of the jurisdiction, someone whose conclusion would be founded on a fair understanding of the relevant circumstances.

Specific to Cayman, the court said it was necessary to attribute to the fair-minded and informed observer the knowledge “that the Cayman Islands is a small jurisdiction and that judicial resources are limited”. At the time of the Ebanks and Jeffers trials, there were no more than three resident judges trying criminal matters.

Justice Quin would have known that the police assessment mentioning Ebanks and Jeffers was a statement of opinion and what police believed – not established facts.

In the trial in which Jeffers was mentioned but was not a defendant, Justice Quin had made no findings of fact about him.

In both cases, the Court of Appeal rejected the argument of apparent bias on the part of the trial judge.

Ebanks’ conviction for the murder of Tyrone Burrell in September 2010 and Jeffers’ conviction for the murder of Marcus Ebanks in July 2009 were upheld and their appeals dismissed.

The other murder conviction upheld by the Court of Appeal was that of Devon Anglin, who was found guilty of the murder of Carlo Webster after a shooting incident at the Next Level Night Club in September 2009. A major issue was the identification of Anglin by two witnesses who had been granted anonymity. Another issue was the interpretation of CCTV footage from the premises. Chief Justice Smellie’s verdict was confirmed in December and the court indicated that reasons would be handed down later. Anglin was found not guilty murdering Jeremiah Barnes, 4, and the Crown appealed, but his attorney applied for an adjournment until 2013 and that was granted.

The one murder conviction overturned was that of William McLaughlin Martinez, who had been found guilty by a jury for the murder of Brian Rankine Carter in May 2008. A previous jury trial ended with a guilty verdict, but the Court of Appeal ordered a new trial after finding that verdict unsafe, on the basis that Justice Alexander Henderson had misdirected jurors by his answer to a question they submitted.

The second jury trial took place before Justice Quin and in April 2011 McLaughlin Martinez was found guilty. His appeal in November 2012 succeeded; the court ruled that jurors had been misdirected regarding the evidence of a witness who the Crown had charged as being an accessory after the fact. The Court of Appeal said it was not in the interests of justice to require a new trial.