Judge urges witnesses to come forward

Defense attorney successfully argues there was no case to answer

Joseph St. Aubryn Hill was found not guilty last week of firearm and wounding charges after defense attorney John Furniss successfully argued there was no case to answer. 

Justice Charles Quin agreed that the evidence could not support a guilty verdict, but he added that the police had conducted a thorough investigation and Senior Crown Counsel Nicole Petit had presented the case in a very professional manner. However, he observed, “her prosecution of the Crown’s case has been frustrated by the unwillingness of potential Crown witnesses to come forward and give evidence in these proceedings. The fact that these persons have not come forward is deeply regrettable.” 

The judge noted that there were seven civilian witnesses named on the back of the indictment, but only two provided statements. 

“This means that there are at least five other witnesses who know something about the events on the evening of August 24, 2013… and about the identity of the man known as the shooter. The court has been told that the other witnesses are too frightened to come forward to give evidence about this shooting and, consequently, the shooter is not apprehended,” Justice Quin said. 

“The courts have some sympathy for witnesses who have been intimidated, but people must have the courage to come forward with information about criminal activity,” he urged.  

With the case before him involving a firearm, he continued, “The entire community must support the police to rid this country of the menace and danger of illegal firearms. Illegal firearms are a persistent problem, which, if continued unabated, will bring further fear and harm to the lives of law-abiding citizens who only wish for the return to peace for Grand Cayman.” 

Hill, 24, first appeared in court on Aug. 29, 2013, after immigration officers were conducting an operation in West Bay and asked him about his immigration status. In an interview on August 27, he indicated he had been fishing off the coast of Jamaica and drifted to Cayman after his boat developed engine problems. 

When first interviewed, he admitted importing approximately 50 pounds of ganja on Aug. 17 and entering the island illegally. When he returned the next week, Hill said, he had approximately 100 pounds of ganja but had to dump it overboard after he ran out of fuel. 

He stayed in someone’s house and, on the evening of Aug. 24, someone known as JR arrived. Hill was told by the person he was staying with to go with JR. 

There was no evidence that Hill knew JR or had ever seen him before. There was no evidence Hill knew that JR had a gun until he realized JR had something in his shirt and JR told him that if he kept his mouth shut, he would live. 

Hill’s evidence was that JR told him to go to a house across the road and knock on the door. The next thing he recalled was gunshots. He said JR was the shooter who wounded a named person with intent to cause him grievous bodily harm. Hill said he was told, “You keep your mouth shut or you will die on this island.” 

After the shooting, Hill said he was dropped off on the side of a road,  

Mr. Furniss argued that there was no evidence of any joint enterprise between Hill and JR. Further, he said Hill was acting under duress, that he was scared for his life. 

Justice Quin pointed out that the burden of disproving duress was on the prosecution. 

What was particularly unusual about this matter was that the Crown’s case against Hill relied wholly on his purported admissions, the judge noted. 

After finding him not guilty, he told Hill, “[Y]ou live a life where you end up sleeping in the homes of persons you seem to know only by alias names or code names and some of the other persons you know only by a first name or by no name or names whatsoever.” 

The judge said Hill’s stated reasons for coming to Cayman and his conduct here as an illegal immigrant was extremely suspicious, so he should consider himself fortunate not to be spending a longer period in prison. He recommended Hill’s immediate deportation. 

The defendant was sentenced in Summary Court on March 20 for the importation of ganja, attempted importation and illegal entries. Magistrate Grace Donalds imposed a term of 12 months for the attempt and made other sentences run concurrently. She said his time in custody since last August would count toward his sentence.  

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2 COMMENTS

  1. I do agree with what the judge is asking in principle. However, the facts on the ground remain the facts on the ground.

    People are terrified of coming forward when they know that they risk their life and the lives of their families when they do so. It is not good enough to ask people to have courage. It is the responsibility of the government and RCIPS to prove to people that they will be protected when they come forward.

    Not long ago it was alleged by someone who was in the witness protection program that they had been abandoned by the RCIPS and this is not the first time that people have heard similar stories.

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  2. The judge’s belief that the goal to … rid this country of the menace and danger of illegal firearms… is achievable is unfortunate. In a land where firearms are illegal, only criminals will have firearms. When law abiding people can protect themselves, criminals think twice when looking for victims.

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