Former Cayman Islands premier McKeeva Bush was found not guilty on all 11 charges against him Thursday following a three-and-a-half-week Grand Court trial.
A jury of four women and three men deliberated for about five hours prior to reaching the unanimous verdict close to noon Thursday, clearing Mr. Bush of six counts of misconduct in a public office and five counts of breach of trust by a Member of the Legislative Assembly. The charges related to Mr. Bush’s use of his government-issued credit card between July 2009 and April 2010, according to a Grand Court indictment.
There was silence in courtroom No. 1 as the court clerk read each count to the jury forewoman, who answered “not guilty” to each one individually. Judge Michael Mettyear thanked the jurors for their service and left the courtroom. Mr. Bush remained silent, with his head down, appearing to write in a notepad while the verdict was delivered. Then pandemonium erupted.
Close to 100 observers had packed into the visitors’ gallery – as many as the court could possibly hold in its available seats – to hear the verdict and a few went into the courtroom dock to hug or shake hands with Mr. Bush after the judge exited. The opposition party leader let out a sigh of relief, then turned around and raised a fist to the assembled crowd, eliciting shouts of “McKeeva!” and “Premier Bush!”
A few supporters used phone cameras to take pictures of Mr. Bush receiving a hug from teary-eyed former George Town MLA Ellio Solomon while the two men stood in the dock. The crowd of onlookers from the courtroom then joined dozens more outside the downtown George Town courthouse for a rally and singing of church hymns, while Mr. Bush gave a brief statement to the press and those assembled. One man grabbed Mr. Bush and lifted him off the ground in a bear hug, to the delight of the crowd, while car horns could be heard honking throughout downtown.
“I am very grateful to the jurors who carefully listened to the evidence and, after due consideration, saw clearly that I had done nothing wrong,” Mr. Bush said.
Mr. Bush’s lead local counsel Michael Alberga quipped, “If the charges don’t fit, you must acquit.”
Outside the courtroom, Mr. Bush was embraced by his son Barry, while his wife Kerry wept. “I just thank the Lord everything is OK,” Mrs. Bush said.
“My friends, this is time for reflection,” Mr. Bush said. “Let us not be unmindful that a warship is stuck on the ocean out there [referring to HMS Argyll, which arrived in Cayman on Monday and remained until Thursday]. This is not by coincidence. They will never make me believe that.
“However, the events which have occurred are not an indictment of any particular nationality. They are isolated abuses of power by U.K.-appointed representatives which, unfortunately, continue to reoccur in our islands and hopefully, in the near future, the necessary checks and balances will be restored. We must put an end to this police state that we are living in.
“We do really need to establish the partnership between the Cayman Islands and the United Kingdom which existed on the basis of mutual trust, cooperation, clarity of purpose, and I stand ready and willing, as is my party, and I believe the entire – at least 70 percent –of this country today to participate in this process.”
Mr. Bush said he intends to have public meetings around Cayman “to tell the people exactly what went on in this country during my trial.” The dates for the meetings were still being worked out at press time.
The former premier was silent on any legal action he might take as a result of the not guilty verdict.
“I will be guided by my attorneys. However, [lead defense counsel Geoffrey Cox] has made it clear that they will hear him in Westminster,” Mr. Bush said, referring to issues that arose with the revelation of former governor Duncan Taylor’s emails apparently cheering on police efforts to arrest and charge the former premier. “There has to be some kind of inquiries as to what went on. This cannot stop here.”
“There are certain persons or instruments in the country that do not mean us well,” Mr. Solomon, the former MLA said. “Particularly after this trial, I’m not sure I want to use the term betting man, I just think in terms of moving forward, it definitely opens the table for further discussions. We need a little cooling down period and decide where exactly we need to go from there.”
Cayman Islands Premier Alden McLaughlin, who was attending the Chamber of Commerce Legislative Luncheon when the verdict came in, said he “would certainly support [Mr. Bush’s] call for an inquiry.”
“I have absolute respect for the system of justice we have. The prosecutors brought the case, it was defended, evidence was heard and the jury brought a verdict,” Mr. McLaughlin said.
Governor Helen Kilpatrick’s office declined to comment on the verdict Thursday. “The verdict is a matter for the courts of the Cayman Islands,” a spokesperson noted.
Cayman Democratic Party [formerly the United Democratic Party] chairwoman Tessa Bodden-Johnson was reluctant to get too political just minutes after the verdict, but she noted that the verdict would be a positive development ahead of the May 2017 general election.
Mr. Bush was not the only one in the courtroom to publicly appreciate the work of the trial jury, which had been at the case for nearly a month.
“You’ve been a very patient jury,” Justice Mettyear said. “You’ve been messed about time-wise [referring to the several adjournments in the case], and we’re very grateful for the forbearance and patience you’ve shown. And thank you very much for your very careful deliberations on these matters, and for your verdicts.”
To reflect the fact that they had been “messed around a bit” and had sat “on this longish case,” he told jurors they need not sit on another jury for at least five years.
Potential jurors first reported for the trial on Sept. 8.
Compass journalists Carol Winker and Alan Markoff contributed to this story.