The Court of Appeal has rejected appeals by Walter Jordan McLaughlin and Keith Rohan Montaque in relation to their 2017 convictions and sentences for firearms offenses.
Mr. McLaughlin was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment in April 2017 after a jury found him guilty of possessing an unlicensed .38 revolver.
The same jury found Mr. Montaque guilty of possessing the .38 revolver and a 9mm pistol. He received two sentences of 15 years, to be served concurrently. Mr. McLaughlin was acquitted of possessing the 9mm pistol.
Both applicants were acquitted of possessing eight rounds of .38 ammunition found elsewhere on the premises.
The sentences were made in April 2017 following a retrial of the case.
The men had been tried in October 2015 after pleading not guilty. After the prosecution’s case was completed, defense attorneys successfully argued that there was no case to answer because, although the defendants’ DNA had been found on one or both of the guns, there was no evidence as to how or when it came to be there.
They pointed out that it could have happened through secondary transfer (such as shaking hands with someone who then touches the gun) rather than direct transfer.
Justice Seymour Panton agreed and the men were acquitted.
In August 2016, senior Crown counsel Candia James argued in the Court of Appeal against that decision. The higher court judges agreed and ordered a retrial. They said Justice Panton’s approach was erroneous in law because it failed to give weight to other, circumstantial, evidence.
For this second trial, there was much evidence that was agreed. Police went to the residence with a search warrant around 5 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015. Mr. McLaughlin lived there with his father; Mr. Montaque had been staying there for about four days, sleeping in a middle bedroom every other night. He was there when police arrived.
Officers discovered the guns in the lining of a box spring under the mattress in the room where Mr. Montaque slept.
The officers who discovered the guns did not touch them. Two other officers were called to deal with the guns and they did not have any dealings with the defendants.
The guns were swabbed and tested. No fingerprints were recovered from either gun. The revolver was found to have the DNA of both men; the pistol had Mr. Montaque’s, but not Mr. McLaughlin’s.
At the Nov. 5 appeal hearing, Mr. Montaque, who represented himself, criticized how the Crown changed its case between the first and second trials. For instance, the prosecution did not call witnesses in the second trial that were in the first, and also changed how it analyzed the DNA evidence, Mr. Montaque said.
The appeals court did not find Mr. Montaque’s arguments compelling, saying that the Crown’s different tactics in the second trial “simply reflected a change in practice in the reporting of DNA evidence. It did not reflect any change of substance.”
Mr. McLaughlin, for his part, was represented at the appeals hearing by attorney Oliver Grimwood, who argued that the trial judge failed to adequately direct the judge in respect of the DNA evidence.
“There were no fingerprints suggesting the weapons was handled. There was little DNA, as far as his client was concerned. [Mr. Grimwood] is critical of the length of summing up and what the judge said to the jury,” the appeals court stated. “He submits that there is, as a result, a lurking doubt about the safety of the conviction.”
The Court of Appeal rejected these arguments, too, saying that Mr. Grimwood is in part simply re-arguing facts that were entirely for the jury. The appeals court rejected the appeals against sentences, too, saying that the trial judge was “amply justified” in imposing the sentences that he did.