When I do not know the answer to a question, I try to find it. If I cannot find it, then I go away with the frustration that the question remains unanswered–at least, for me. I do not want to speak for others, just myself. I often try to put what facts I can find against the question to give me the answer. Just getting statements that purport to be the answer is not good enough. If those statements seem to have flaws, then I try to find ways to remove those. Until I get clarity I will not make a pronouncement. I do not want to speak for others, just myself. I’m patient and will hold my judgement until I feel I can go forward with a view that I can back up.
I have been following a murder case in Jamaica that just ended with the suspect being freed, on the instruction of the judge to the jury to acquit. The facts of the case were few. A schoolboy, Khajeel Mais, was shot, while riding in a taxi on July 1, 2011. The allegation was that the taxi crashed into a car, a BMW X6, whose driver allegedly then proceeded to draw a gun and shot into the cab, hitting the boy in the process. The driver of the taxi, Wayne Wright, took the boy to a nearby police station. The boy died.
Days after the shooting, the police sought to find the owner of the BMW, now suspect, Patrick Powell, went to his home on July 10, found him absent abroad, and searched for the gun, without success. The next day, the man returned to Jamaica on July 11 and was detained and requested to hand over his registered firearm; he refused, reportedly on his lawyer’s advice. The case against the man proceeded, without having found the weapon, and with the suspect claiming his innocence.
Some police forensic work was done that established the taxi and the man’s car had matching paint marks, suggesting a collision. However, ballistics information was limited, and without a gun, no matches could be made of a weapon and shell. Gunpowder residue was found on the hands of the victim. There appeared to be only one eyewitness, and his statement submitted in evidence was that the suspect was the man who shot into the taxi.
Following multiple delays, the case goes to court after five years. However, under cross-examination at trial by the prosecutor, the witness recanted that statement, and is then treated as a ‘hostile witness’. The prosecution case falls.
Many people are amazed that what seemed to be a clear case descended quickly into a legal mess. The expectation of a verdict of guilty went away fast once there was no way to pin the suspect to the scene of the crime. We see many flaws of our legal system exposed. We see many concerns about the fairness of our society exposed: it seems that another ‘well-to-do’ person has bettered the legal system, and those ‘less well placed’ suffered, again.
Society wants answers to troubling events, but will it accept what it wants without proof that it has what it needs? That, to me, is one of the important questions.
The Jamaica Constabulary Force issued a statement, Police High Command Responds To Murder Acquittal. It leave more questions unanswered than it answers. But, for me, several questions are stark:
- If a country has laws that allow a suspect to refuse a request to hand over a registered firearm suspected of being used in a crime, how can you really expect to solve gun crimes?
- If your national ballistics database for registered firearms is being created, alphabetically, and a suspect comes up, whose name is not yet reached, are you content to say, that is reason enough to not enforce the advancing of compiling data for that person, exceptionally?
With questions like that, what is the meaning of the JCF’s statement (my emphasis) ‘According to the High Command, the Police did everything that was expected to be done to ensure the successful prosecution of the murder case against Mr. Powell.’?
People’s confidence in the competence of the police force is low in Jamaica. I’m sorry to say that doing ‘everything that was expected to be done’ is ambiguous. It’s not everything that should have been done, or everything that could have been done, it’s less than either, IF the expectation is that not much will be done.
The defence attorney, Patrick Atkinson, a former Attorney General, commented on the radio yesterday to Cliff Hughes that ‘information contained in the [JCF] press release is not correct’[listen and read here]. Do you feel your confidence in proceedings rising or falling?
I do not know the identity of the killer, but I am convinced that not enough was done to establish who that was. To turn around a metaphor, many stones were left unturned. The killer is still at large–FACT. The gun is still not found–FACT. We are swimming in uncertainty. Speculation doesn’t change that. The vast majority of crimes in Jamaica go unsolved–FACT. Add another one to that statistic.
What may happen if the suspect is forced to relinqish his firearm and tests on it show it was the murder weapon? The case against him cannot be retried (double jeopardy). We still would not know whose finger was on the trigger.
I’ll share just a few exchanges I’ve had over recent years about justice, not just in Jamaica.
FYI, Charles Blow is the noted New York Times columnist, and we had an exchange in 2012:
I added earlier this week:
Earlier this year, I had the exchange with reporter, Karen Madden, and it reflects a basic weakness that affects our ‘crime fighting’ efforts in Jamaica:
You would have to be an optimist of an extraordinary order to have faith in the Jamaican justice system to deliver a fair outcome: it’s proven repeatedly to be unable to do that. Cases coming to trial, few as they are, and slowly as they do, merely reinforce the apparent unfairness. The main actors dispensing justice often seem duplicitous. (It seems standard that a police officer is allegedly complicit in trying to hide evidence. That it was unproven in this case, doesn’t detract from the strong suspicion that the coppers are bent.) Little wonder that those ordinary citizens who help build the system–especially, witnesses and jurors–are tempted to also ‘game’ the system. Listen to the words of the Director of Public Prosecutions about how people seem ‘schooled’ in recanting statements and avoiding perjury.
A cart rumbling along, on its uneven wheels, is likely to breakdown completely and spill all its contents.
Speaking for myself, my faith in the justice system is low. I have seen little reason to change that view. I’ve heard a string of platitudes that suggest that ‘talk is cheap’. Heaven help anyone who has to go through its wringer.