Thu | Sep 21, 2017

Annie Paul | The Causwell case

Published:Wednesday | October 12, 2016 | 10:00 AM
Annie Paul

On Monday, news broke that murderer Steven Causwell was finally sentenced to life imprisonment after a case that began in 2008 and meandered its way uncertainly for eight whole years. The family of his victim, Nadia Mitchell, her daughter and mother in particular, were afraid that with his wealth and connections, he would be let off, but justice has prevailed. Steven Causwell will have to serve at least 20 years before he is eligible for parole.

The Causwell murder case is a good example of how differently the media and the justice system in Jamaica treat perpetrators of major crimes when they come from the country's elite. The scion of a big business family, you will look in vain for images of the murderer in either of the country's two newspapers. Whenever the case was reported in the newspapers, the image of a gavel was used as a placeholder where normally you would have seen photographs of the accused.

Both newspapers freely used images of the young and attractive victim, who at one time was in a relationship with Causwell. The relationship was an abusive one, and Nadia Mitchell eventually left Causwell, unable to take the routine battering he meted out. Her young daughter, Imani Prendergast, testified to the brutality of the beatings and the trauma of watching her mother severely abused.

What were the facts of the case? On July 16, 2008, Mitchell, a make-up artist, who by then was in a new relationship, was killed in her apartment, where she had gone to pick up some personal belongings. Her body was then flung off the balcony of her fourth-floor Oaklands apartment by her ex-boyfriend, Steven Causwell, whose lawyers later tried to claim that Mitchell had committed suicide. They were unable, however, to explain the blows to the head that actually killed her.

The twists and turns of the case are fascinating. So sure was Causwell that he would escape the long arm of the law that he led a normal life after being released from custody having paid $3 million in bail monies. On July 16 of the following year, 2009, Causwell took part in National Commercial Bank Capital Markets' Sporting Clays Open tournament at Caymanas Golf and Country Club and even won a prize for topping one of the categories.

As the Observer reported, "The businessman was champion of the 'D' class division with 71 points, ahead of Richard Khouri and Mike Phillips. Sporting Clay is an activity that involves shooting clay targets using single- or double-barrelled shotguns at multiple locations. The sport here normally attracts an elite group of well-off Jamaicans."

Well, there's no law against an accused out on bail using a firearm, but that Causwell would participate openly in such a public contest hints at the impunity he enjoyed.

Another news item that attended this case was more sensational: "FOUR cellular phones, a blood-stained comforter, and a pair of female underwear that were seized by the police in the aftermath of the death of Nadia Mitchell at her Oaklands Apartment in the Corporate Area eight years ago have gone missing," reported the Observer.

The items that were taken into police custody and placed in storage at the Constant Spring Police Station to be used as exhibits in the Oaklands murder trial, as it was now being called, had disappeared, vanished into thin air. Lead investigator, Detective Senior Superintendent Michael Pommells, from the Major Investigation Task Force testified that he could not locate the comforter, underwear or other articles of clothing that were labelled and put in safekeeping in the police storeroom.

"Pommells, during cross-examination from Causwell's lawyer, Queen's Counsel Jacqueline Samuels-Brown, said he searched for four hours, but could not locate the items, and that all the exhibits in the storeroom were scattered on the floor because the shelves had broken down."

Contrast all this with the relatively speedy trial and conviction of Adidja Palmer, aka Vybz Kartel, Jamaica's top DJ, in 2014.

For a murder allegedly committed in 2011, of a victim whose body has yet to be found, Kartel was sentenced to life imprisonment on circumstantial evidence that the police meticulously mobilised against him. The zeal with which they approached their task might have suggested they were dealing with a crime boss like El Chapo or Escobar, whose apprehension and conviction would lead to a drastic drop in crime. Nothing of the sort has followed, as we know. As for images of Kartel, the media used them with abandon and relish.

Finally, another high-profile case to keep our eyes on was flagged by none other than former contractor general Greg Christie on Twitter last week.

"Dear Jamaica Police Commissioner," tweeted Christie: "A body with over 20 stab wounds was reportedly found recently at a prominent JA lawyer's home. Any updates? Thank you."

• Annie Paul is a writer and critic based at the University of the West Indies and author of the blog, Active Voice (anniepaul.net).

Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com or tweet @anniepaul.