Gun in freezer retrial ends with not guilty verdict

Jury returns majority verdict, 5-2, in favor of Joshua Alexander Brown

A jury found a man not guilty of possessing an unlicensed firearm that police found in the freezer compartment of a refrigerator.

The seven-member all-male jury, on a majority verdict, acquitted Joshua Alexander Brown of the charge.

The gun was found inside the fridge in an apartment where Brown had spent the night and which was leased by a woman with whom he had an intimate relationship.

Police attended the premises with a search warrant around 11:30 a.m. on Sept. 8, 2011. The woman was not there, but Brown was. Officers conducted their search and found a Springfield Colt .45-caliber and six rounds of .45-caliber ammunition wrapped in a shirt in the freezer compartment.

Brown pleaded not guilty and, during his first trial in March of 2012, suggested that jealousy could have been a motive for somebody transferring his DNA onto the gun because he was having intimate relationships with two different women.

He had chosen trial by judge alone. Justice Seymour Panton heard the evidence, found him guilty and sentenced him to 12 years imprisonment.

Justice Panton referred to DNA evidence and said he had been satisfied beyond all doubt that Brown had handled the gun. An expert witness said the DNA she found on the exterior of the gun was a mixture of at least two individuals contributing to a major and a minor profile. The major profile matched the DNA profile obtained from Brown. The chance that an unrelated person selected at random from the general population would match that profile was one in 47 quadrillion.

The conviction was taken to the Cayman Islands Court of Appeal, which heard arguments in April this year. Brown’s attorneys argued that the Crown had deprived him of information he needed for his defense because he could not find out who had phoned 911 with an allegation about a vehicle accident and a gun – information that lead police to where he was. His defense was that his DNA had been planted on the gun.

A second ground of appeal was that the judge treated the DNA evidence in such a way that his rulings were unsafe and unsatisfactory.

The court allowed the appeal, quashed the conviction and ordered a new trial, saying it would release its reasons in writing. For the retrial, Brown chose trial by jury. This time, both girlfriends gave evidence and both denied making the call to 911.

In her summing up, Crown Counsel Tricia Hutchinson urged jurors not to be distracted by the girlfriend situation. Brown had clothes in the apartment and he had parked his mother’s car there after it was involved in an accident a few weeks earlier; he had joint control over what was in the apartment, she said.

Ms Hutchinson noted that if someone had transferred Brown’s DNA to the gun, one would expect the same profile on the shirt as on the gun, and on the inside as well as the outside. Further, when police had shouted for occupants to come out of the apartment, it was several minutes before Brown appeared, she pointed out.

In his summing up, defense attorney Michael Wingrave described all the evidence as circumstantial, since no one had seen Brown with a gun. He said Brown accepted that the DNA on the exterior of the gun was his, given the match of one in every 47 quadrillion, but he questioned how it got there. Further, the DNA found inside the gun matched his only to a ratio of one in every 81 persons. And there was no DNA at all on the rounds of ammunition.

Mr. Wingrave argued that the DNA evidence was more consistent with someone applying DNA to the exterior than actually using or loading the gun. He accepted that it took some time for Brown to answer the police officer’s shouts, but that was because he was just waking up. If Brown had put the gun in the freezer, wouldn’t he have hidden it underneath other things instead of leaving it right on top? he wondered.

Justice Charles Quin summed up the evidence and directed the jury on Tuesday morning. The verdict was reached after two and a half hours. Afterwards, the judge told Brown that as far as the Grand Court was concerned, he was free to go.

Brown, now 24, had been in custody since his arrest in September 2011. While at Northward Prison, he was charged with possession of ganja but was bailed by the Summary Court. However, he could not be released until a surety signed for him in that matter.