Eyewitnesses crucial to murder verdict

Osbourne Douglas and Justin Ramoon to hear decision on May 17

The crime scene is cordoned off the morning following the July 1, 2015, shooting of 20-year-old Jason Powery. – Photo: Charles Duncan

Two eyewitnesses form the crucial part of the Crown’s case against brothers Osbourne Douglas, 29, and Justin Ramoon, 24, on a charge of murder, all counsel agreed on Friday.

They were making their closing speeches before Justice Charles Quin, who said he would deliver his verdict on Tuesday, May 17, at 2 p.m. The defendants chose to be tried by judge alone.

They are charged with murdering Jason Powery, 20, on Wednesday night, July 1, 2015, in the vicinity of the Globe Bar, off Shedden Road, in George Town. They chose not to call evidence after the Crown closed its case on Thursday.

Witness Jerome Hurlston told the court he saw Ramoon shoot Mr. Powery in the face from point-blank range.

Witness Justin Ebanks told the court he saw Douglas hand a firearm to Ramoon before he heard a shot.

In summing up the case for the prosecution, Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryll Richards said the important issue was the identification of the shooter and the person aiding and abetting him. The evidence of the eyewitnesses was critical, she said.

They were witnesses of truth, she said, and they were doing their best to recall accurately what they saw some 10 months ago.

Ms. Richards suggested that the time lapse was significant in terms of their ability to recall details such as color of clothing or footwear. She submitted that they had no reason to lie or make up evidence.

In terms of identification, she agreed that witnesses can be mistaken, even about people they know well when the observation is made in difficult conditions, so the court should look for supporting evidence.

She said the men’s observations were not fleeting glances; there was sufficient time for them to see and recognize the defendants.

Ms. Richards agreed that the quality of lighting was an issue. After the shooting, police had brought bright lights into the area to help them in their search for evidence; that did not mean there was insufficient light to recognize people, she said.

Witness Mr. Hurlston had denied going into a nearby alleyway to smoke ganja before the shooting. The Crown said even if he was not being truthful about the smoking, it was not an issue that was material to the case.

Witness Mr. Ebanks had told the court he had been feeling unwell that night as he was suffering from flu; he had drunk a small quantity of alcohol and had smoked a ganja cigarette. “There is nothing to suggest he was so impaired as to affect what he said he saw that night,” Ms. Richards argued.

It was significant that Mr. Ebanks called 911 after the shooting, she said.

Not only did Mr. Ebanks admit smoking ganja, he also did not deny possessing a firearm without a license after that night, even when he was warned that information could be used against him.

Supporting evidence came from CCTV cameras in the area, Ms. Richards continued. Detective Constable Ronald Francis knew both defendants and identified them in CCTV footage during daylight hours on the date of the shooting.

Forensic video analyst Grant Fredericks demonstrated how he had tracked those two figures, whom he referred to as Male One and Male Two, on footage seen from around 7 p.m. until almost 11 p.m.

The CCTV did not show the shooting or the handing over of the firearm, but Ms. Richards said it supported eyewitness evidence in terms of location and sequence of events; she noted that neither Mr. Hurlston nor Mr. Ebanks had seen the footage before giving their evidence.

She invited the court to accept the two men had given their evidence of identification truthfully and were not mistaken. Lead counsel Sean Larkin spoke on behalf of Ramoon. He said the Crown’s case against his client depended on Mr. Hurlston’s evidence. “If he is not reliable, then there is no case,” he submitted. He suggested that, too often, witnesses reconstruct or interpret evidence wrongly.

Mr. Larkin said Mr. Hurlston had made a statement to police because officers had told him he was implicated and he believed the defendants had put the police on him. “There is as much evidence against him as anyone,” the attorney asserted.

He wondered why Mr. Fredericks had tracked only Ramoon and Douglas when there were 16 identifiable people in the vicinity around the time of the shooting. He pointed out that Ramoon lived nearby and often hung around the area.

Lead counsel Martin Hicks, speaking for Douglas, endorsed many of the points made by Mr. Larkin. Both submitted that the lighting was inadequate and witnesses’ views would have been affected by obstructions, shadows and trees blowing in the wind. Mr. Hicks pointed out that Mr. Ebanks was “the sole witness who purports to see the handover of the gun. Without him, there is no case against Douglas.”

He argued that the evidence was weak because the event was sudden, unexpected and viewed by chance when Mr. Ebanks happened to look up as he was sitting with his head down. He said he was sitting 12 to 15 feet from the alleged handover of the gun, but police had measured the distance as more like 40 feet.

Mr. Hicks explored the police response to both witnesses. Initially, he said, police treated Mr. Hurlston and Mr. Ebanks as suspects: “This changed as soon as they became witnesses,” he said. This shift in approach took place without any proper scrutiny of the men’s phones, vehicles or clothing to assess their credibility, he said.

All three counsel made the point that the prosecution had to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.