Conviction upheld for 2010 murder of Damion Ming
The Cayman Islands Court of Appeal on Friday dismissed Raziel Jeffers’s appeal of his conviction for the murder of Damion Ming in West Bay on March 25, 2010.
Jeffers, now 32, was found guilty at trial by jury in April 2014.
This was his second appeal against a murder conviction. He was previously found guilty of murdering Marcus Leon Ebanks in July 2009, also in West Bay. The shooting also left a teenage boy paralyzed. Following trial by judge alone, Justice Charles Quin found him guilty in February 2012. Jeffers’s appeal of that conviction was dismissed later the same year.
He faced a third murder charge in August 2014. A jury found him not guilty of murdering Marcos Mauricio Duran in West Bay on March 11, 2010, but guilty of manslaughter. Chief Justice Anthony Smellie imposed a term of 20 years. He said the jury must have accepted that Jeffers was the mastermind of a robbery and would know it involved at least one firearm, which would have placed Mr. Duran at risk of harm.
The appeal of the conviction for Mr. Ming’s murder was argued in April this year.
Lead counsel Brian O’Neill, instructed by attorney Fiona Robertson, had argued primarily against the summing up to the jury by Justice Malcolm Swift. They submitted that he failed to give a balanced summing up, that he misdirected the jury on a number of matters and that he erred in speculating on some important matters, thereby inviting the jury to reach conclusions based on speculation.
Responding to their arguments were lead counsel Andrew Radcliffe and Crown counsel Tricia Hutchinson, the same team that conducted the case for the prosecution during Jeffers’s trial.
Mr. Ming was shot in a yard off Birch Tree Hill Road, where he was with several men working on a boat. The principal witness was Jeffers’s former girlfriend. She told the court that Jeffers had confessed to her that he killed Mr. Ming. She gave details of the incident that she could not have known unless they had been provided to her by the shooter, Mr. Radcliffe pointed out in the trial and the appeal.
This witness also could not have known that the pathologist’s report would support her evidence as to what she said Jeffers told her about the sequence of shots fired and the wounds Mr. Ming sustained.
Another important aspect of evidence was a schedule of 1,058 pieces of telephone data attributed to phones belonging to Jeffers, the principal witness and another witness. If jurors accepted this evidence as reliable, they could plot Jeffers’s movements the night of the shooting.
The court hearing the appeal was comprised of Justices Elliott Mottley, Sir Bernard Rix and Sir George Newman.
They found that Justice Swift’s summing up to the jury was not unbalanced, pointing out that Jeffers’s defense was one of alibi – that he was not at the scene of the murder at the time. A summing up cannot be criticized simply on the basis of the number of minutes devoted to the prosecution case and defense case, the judges commented. “In our view, the judge placed the competing contentions of the prosecution and defense before the jury.”
The appeal also criticized the way the judge had dealt with the evidence of a defense witness who said he had seen two men in the vicinity of the shooting at or about or shortly before shots were heard. Justice Swift had described him as “a somewhat dogmatic witness.”
The appeal judges said, “One can be confident that a Cayman Islands jury were well able to consider the demeanor of a Caymanian and knew well that their view of him was a matter for them. It must have been obvious to the jury that this was a judge expressing a perception of the witness’s demeanor whose reliability was for them to decide.”
Further, in summing up the evidence, Justice Swift reminded the jury that the defense had suggested the two men were the killers.
This part of the case was noteworthy for the lack of clear evidence, and it was for the jury to make what they chose of it, the appeal judges said. They said Justice Swift was entitled to make clear the different ways in which the evidence about the two men could be interpreted.
“A consequence of an alibi defense will be that the details, such as they may be, as to the circumstances in which the offense took place are outside the knowledge of a defendant. It is clear that the judge in this instance skillfully marshalled all the areas of the prosecution’s case which had been subjected to attack. He skillfully articulated the attacks which had been made and, by his summing up, gave the case a structure and comprehensive format which the respective cases for the prosecution and the defense may not have achieved,” the court said.
“Clarity of exposition on the part of a judge in a criminal case is a hallmark of a proper summing up,” the judges pointed out.
“According to the strengths and weaknesses of the respective case, clarity will inevitably enlighten the jury in respect of those respective cases. However, if the clarity reflects fairly the quality of the evidence and the material for the jury’s consideration but, taken together it points to a verdict of guilty, in our judgment, it cannot be said that the clarity has brought about injustice and unfairness,” the court concluded in dismissing the appeal.