Judge finds no case to answer in fatal shooting of special athlete Solomon Webster last year
“You’re free to go,” Justice Charles Quin told Jose Guadalupe Sanchez at 12:20 p.m. Thursday, shortly after finding that the Crown had not proven its case against him on a charge of murdering Solomon Webster, 24, a Special Olympics gold medalist who lived at 57 Miss Daisy Lane in West Bay.
Sanchez, 27, was staying with his mother, who also lived in that yard. On the night of Sept. 7, 2014, he was given a ride back to that address. Before he got out of the vehicle, he was approached by Shaquille Bush, who lived nearby, and a confrontation developed. As the men struggled, Mr. Webster involved himself and it was during the struggle that he was shot. The bullet perforated his femoral artery and he died approximately two hours later.
Sanchez had been in custody since his arrest several days after the shooting. With no case to answer, and on bail for a matter in the Summary Court, Sanchez was expected to be released shortly.
Justice Quin said he wanted to clarify the role of prosecuting counsel. Some people think it is their duty to obtain a conviction at all costs and by any means possible, he noted. In fact, it is their duty to bring before the court all the facts available and then the defense is obliged to test that evidence.
He thanked Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryll Richards and Senior Crown counsel Tricia Hutchinson “for the admirable way they presented this case.” He also thanked defense counsel Mark Heywood and Guy Dilliway-Parry for their carefully reasoned submissions.
The judge first dealt with the defense submission that there had been an abuse of process such that Sanchez could not have a fair trial. He found that there was no deliberate obstruction or failure to obtain evidence helpful to the defense.
The judge did say, however, that he found it difficult to understand why investigators would not have searched Bush’s home or obtained his clothes for gunshot residue testing. He said the investigators came to an early view that Sanchez was the only suspect.
However, he added, the court recognized that the investigating officers’ job is made more difficult when there is a delay in witnesses coming forward. He also referred to evidence that a yard resident had found a gun about 10 minutes after the shooting and he had hidden it in the yard. Justice Quin wondered why the gun was not turned over to police until two days later.
An expert said that a bullet casing found in the yard had come from the Colt Commander pistol recovered, but he could not say when it had been fired. When he examined the handgun, it was not operable.
These facts had led to the suggestion that the Colt pistol was not the murder weapon and could have been planted. Moreover, Sanchez was excluded from any match with a partial DNA profile obtained from the gun. Importantly, the bullet that passed through Mr. Webster’s thigh was never recovered.
Some of these details were repeated when Justice Quin went on to rule on the “no case to answer” submission and summarized the events of the day. The core of the Crown’s case had been identified as Sanchez having the gun with him when he returned to the yard that night. Sanchez had left the yard to attend a birthday celebration aboard a party boat. His brother was driving him home again when they came across Rachelyn Bush, whom they knew. Sanchez then got into her vehicle, saying he wanted to spend the evening with her.
She declined and carried him to his mother’s house. He was wearing swimming shorts and nothing else; he had his shirt over his arm, with his phone in one hand and a bottle of rum in the other hand. As he sat in her car, Shaquille Bush came over in an aggressive mood and demanded the rum and Sanchez’s watch.
When he couldn’t get them, he picked up Sanchez out of the car and a struggle began. Neither Sanchez’s brother nor Ms. Bush saw a Sanchez with a gun that day.
Justice Quin noted that the chief investigating officer had said that Shaquille Bush was never a suspect in this matter. But it was known that Bush had a propensity for guns, he had access to guns. There was evidence he had a gun in August 2014 and there was evidence he fired a gun in October 2014.
When officers spoke to him after Mr. Webster was killed, Bush accepted being present at the time of the struggle and the shooting, but said he did not see anyone with a gun.
The judge said he did not understand why the decision was taken so early that the defendant was the only suspect. He said it was incredible that the two men present were not both treated as suspects and efforts made to gather evidence regarding both of them as soon as possible.
Justice Quin said the men had been fighting and a firearm appeared. Nobody witnessed when the gun went off. He said he could not rule out the following scenarios as reasonable and possible: Did Sanchez shoot Mr. Webster? Did Bush bring a gun to shoot Sanchez and it went off in the struggle? Did Mr. Webster bring a gun to the scene? Was it possible Mr. Webster accidentally shot himself?
If this were a jury trial, he would have to warn jurors not to speculate; as the trier of fact, he said, he could not speculate.
After reviewing all of the evidence, exhibits and submissions, he found there was a distinct lack of primary evidence that Sanchez had arrived at the yard with a gun. There was evidence to support the contention that the gun recovered was not the gun that discharged the bullet that inflicted the fatal wound. He said he was clear that under no circumstances could he be convinced beyond reasonable doubt that there was reason to allow the trial to continue because the evidence could not support a guilty verdict.