***Update: 8:30 a.m., Friday Aug. 28***
All three defendants in the Blackbeard’s liquor store robbery were found guilty late Thursday; verdicts of the 11-member jury were unanimous.
As of press time Thursday, the jury was still deliberating in the trial of three men accused of robbing Blackbeard’s liquor store in Grand Harbour in December 2014.
The 11-member jury retired at 10:35 a.m. to begin deliberations after hearing evidence since Aug. 11.
Andrew Lopez, Bron Webb and Randy Dale Connor are charged with the robbery and with using force against a store cashier to steal CI$4,604.42 and US$582. They are also charged with robbing a customer in the store and possessing an unlicensed firearm.
In summing up the evidence and instructing jurors about the law, Justice Francis Belle pointed out that while the defendants said they were elsewhere at the time of the robbery, they did not have to prove it. It was the Crown who had to disprove their explanations.
“It boils down to a question of who you believe,” he told them.
Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryll Richards and defense attorneys agreed that the case depended on circumstantial evidence.
The robbery occurred shortly after 7:30 p.m. Approximately 15 minutes later, the defendants were found with a fourth man at Lopez’s residence in Prospect. The Ford Escape identified as the getaway vehicle was in the yard and receipts from the customer’s purse were in the car. In a storeroom on the premises, the purse was found, along with clothing identified as having been worn during the robbery, plus CI$4,536 and US$594 in cash.
The judge said the Crown was asking whether it was coincidence that men used the vehicle and took the items to Lopez’s residence, and then the individuals found there soon after knew nothing about the robbery.
“The Crown is asking you to say it is not coincidence,” the judge summarized.
Lopez’s explanation for being present was that he lived there. His lead defense attorney, Bernard Tetlow, had reminded the jurors that there was no forensic evidence to link Lopez to the robbery – no DNA or fingerprints and no CCTV.
CCTV did link the vehicle to the robbery, “but there is an important distinction,” Mr. Tetlow emphasized.
Lopez occasionally drove the vehicle, which was owned by his sister and driven mostly by his mother. On the day of the robbery, the keys had been left in the vehicle, so anybody could have used it, he indicated when giving evidence.
Webb had said in his interview with police and again in giving evidence that he had gone to Lopez’s house earlier that evening and had fallen asleep inside around 6:30 p.m. He woke up when he heard voices saying, “armed police!” and that is when he went outside.
Webb’s lead counsel, Brendan Kelly, had pointed to circumstances that he said could mean other people had been involved in the robbery. For example, the white hoodie and green ski mask worn by one of the robbers were not recovered. The phone belonging to the customer who was robbed was found two blocks north of Lopez’s street. The officer who followed the Ford Escape from Grand Harbour to Prospect mentioned a dark car in the vicinity of McRuss Groceries. If that car stopped, was it because one or more of the robbers wanted out, he asked.
Further, the store cashier had described the robber in the white hoodie as being 6 feet 6 inches tall; Webb is 5 feet 7 inches tall. Mr. Kelly argued that such a difference was too great to be accounted for by an error in estimation or any trauma the witness was under.
Connor had told the court he was helping Devon Wright fix a car about three houses away from Lopez’s residence. He then walked to the main road to hitch a ride back to George Town. He saw Lopez drive past and asked for a ride; Lopez told him he could not give a ride, but could give him a phone call if Connor went back to Lopez’s house.
Connor said he walked to Lopez’s house and entered the yard through the back, and that was when he was arrested. Reminded that the arresting officer had said Connor was coming out of a shed, Connor said the officer was lying or mistaken.
His lead attorney, John Furniss, asked the jury not to make the same mistake police had made because Connor wears his hair in dreadlocks. A still photo from the liquor store’s CCTV system had shown something hanging down from the hoodie worn by one of the robbers. It was thought to be a dreadlock, but the expert analyst confirmed it was material and not hair.
Mr. Furniss also pointed out that the robber with the material hanging down was the one carrying the shotgun found the next day in Lopez’s attic. But Connor’s fingerprints were not on the gun nor were they in the Ford Escape. His DNA was found on a black jacket identified from the CCTV, but Connor had told the jury that Lopez asked him for the jacket some two months before the robbery took place.
One of Justice Belle’s final instructions to the jury was about joint enterprise. He reminded jurors they had to reach separate verdicts for each count and for each defendant. If they were sure a defendant acted with others in a common criminal purpose to rob Blackbeard’s liquor store, it did not matter what role he played in the furtherance of that common purpose. If they found that he did not act with the others in a common purpose, or if they were not sure, the verdict would be not guilty.