Publicity cited in rapist's appeal

Jeffrey Barnes, sentenced in September 2013 to life imprisonment for rape, appeared in court Tuesday to appeal his conviction and sentence. 

Barnes’s counsel, Michael Wood, argued in the Court of Appeal that his client was unable to have a fair trial because of prejudicial publicity before his trial in March/April 2013. 

He noted that senior police officials had named Barnes and described him as violent and dangerous in October/November 2011. In early March 2013, an erroneous television news story had aired. 

Mr. Wood told the court that Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryll Richards had written to the station about the inaccuracies and possible prejudice against Barnes in light of his forthcoming trial and the offending material was taken down. 

However, other offending material remained on various websites, he said. 

“We cannot understand why possibly prejudicial material was taken down while undoubtedly prejudicial material was not taken down,” Mr. Wood said. 

The court and the prosecution should have ensured that all the articles were taken down until proceedings concluded, he argued. Unlike print journalism, which has a “fade factor” of days, online journalism can be accessed continually, he said. 

He said it was not necessary to prove that the material had been prejudicial; the concern was to avoid the risk of prejudice. 

He referred to one media site that published a comment in which the writer wished that Cayman still had the death penalty, and there were 138 comments in agreement. 

He argued that the publishers of all of the local news websites should have prevented access to the prejudicial material. 

Mr. Wood was continuing his presentation at Cayman Compass press deadline, discussing the trial judge’s directions to the jury regarding the Internet. 

Before the appeal against conviction began, Ms. Richards raised a preliminary point about the appeal against sentence, which was to be presented by attorney Nicholas Dixey. 

The question was whether a discretionary life sentence under the Penal Code was incompatible with the Bill of Rights, which has been part of Cayman’s Constitution since 2012, specifically, Article 3 of the Bill of Rights. It states, “No person shall be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” 

Since it was a constitutional question, she asked whether Attorney General Samuel Bulgin should be involved. 

Court president Justice Elliott Mottley said he, Justices Sir Richard Field and Dennis Morrison would proceed to hear the appeal against conviction first, and then the appeal against sentence if that stage were reached. He commented that the arguments in the appeal against sentence would be more involved than in the appeal against conviction.

***Editor’s Note: For legal reasons, we are not accepting comments on this article.***