Leonard Antonio Ebanks, sentenced to 20 years for being an accessory after the fact to the 2008 murder of Frederic Bise, lost his appeal on Friday against that conviction and sentence.
Ebanks had been charged with his cousin, Chad Anglin, for the murder of the Swiss banker. They ended up being tried separately, however, and Anglin was found guilty of murder in May 2014.
Mr. Bise’s badly beaten body had been found on the morning of Feb. 8, 2008, in the trunk of his burned-out car outside the West Bay residence where he was staying.
Ebanks’s trial took place in November 2014. A jury found him not guilty of murder, but guilty of being an accessory after the fact. Justice Charles Quin passed sentence in February 2015, describing the murder as brutal, evil and gruesome. He suggested that but for the destruction of evidence by Ebanks, the likelihood was that the investigation of the case against Anglin could have led to successful prosecution and conviction seven years earlier.
In passing sentence, Justice Quin ordered that Ebanks serve the 20 years consecutive to the sentence he serves for the murder of Tyrone Burrell in 2010. Ebanks was convicted of that offense in 2011, when the only sentence for murder was imprisonment for life, and his appeal against conviction was dismissed in 2012.
Senior Crown counsel Elisabeth Lees advised that the sentence could only be consecutive if there is a tariff on the whole life term, a tariff sentence meaning a specific number of years. Justice Quin said if Ebanks’s life sentence became a specific term of years, the accessory sentence would become consecutive. But if Ebanks’s murder sentence remained life, the accessory sentence would be concurrent.
Defense attorney Amelia Fosuhene submitted that the judge had to deal with the circumstances as they were at the time. Justice Quin suggested that the matter needed further argument and someone might take it to the Court of Appeal.
All parties were referring to the fact that Cayman’s Legislative Assembly had passed the Conditional Release Law several months earlier, but it had not yet come into effect. This law requires the court to specify how long a convicted person must be incarcerated before he/she is eligible to be considered for release on license. The starting point for murder is 30 years, but the judge may adjust this upward or downwards depending on whether there are aggravating or extenuating circumstances.
The law and its regulations came into effect in February 2016. They require that individuals sentenced to life imprisonment before that date must receive a determinate sentence within two years – that is, February 2018.
Ebanks has not yet had a sentencing hearing.
Friday’s appeal was based primarily on two grounds. One was that the charge of being an accessory after the fact was not on the original indictment for murder, but was added late in the trial, just before closing speeches.
Lead defense counsel Courtenay Griffiths submitted to the Court of Appeal that Ebanks had a constitutional right to a fair trial and this included being informed in detail of the nature and cause of the accusation made against him. He said the late entry of the alternative charge was prejudicial and unfair because it impacted how the defense would be conducted and how Crown witnesses would be cross-examined.
Court president Sir John Goldring agreed that the question he and his fellow judges had to ask was, was the addition of the alternative charge fair, or did it amount to a material irregularity.
After adjourning to discuss the matter with Justices John Martin and Sir Richard Field, the president announced his decision. He said the appeal against conviction was dismissed because the addition of the alternative charge was not unfair.
He pointed out that Ebanks’s defense was one of complete denial of involvement, whether as a principal or as an accessory. The appeal judges could not accept that cross-examination of Crown witnesses would have been any different.
They referred to Cayman’s Criminal Procedure Code, which clearly states that on a charge of murder, a person found not guilty of murder may be found guilty of manslaughter, or causing grievous bodily harm, or being an accessory after the fact.
Another ground of appeal concerned the judge’s summing up of the case for the jury, but the Court of Appeal said Justice Quin gave clear and careful directions.
Mr. Griffiths argued against the sentence of 20 years, saying it was “much too long.” He pointed out that the U.K. tariff for murder is 20 years, but in Ebanks’ case the jury had found that he did not take part in the murder.
Justice Goldring said the jury had accepted that Ebanks assisted in destroying the weapon that Anglin used, assisted him in lifting the body into the trunk of the car, burning the car and Anglin’s clothes afterward. It was not an overstatement to say that the damage to justice by such assistance had been extreme.
Regrettably, Cayman has seen a dramatic increase in the number of murders, he commented, and this murder had been as callous and brutal as could be imagined. “We cannot say that 20 years is manifestly excessive,” he concluded.
Mr. Griffiths was instructed by Ms. Fosuhene.
Lead counsel Simon Russell-Flint and Ms. Lees responded on behalf of the Crown.