Fri | Dec 14, 2018

Injustice! - Three men exonerated in 17-year murder case after new evidence contradicts account of main witness

Published:Wednesday | June 6, 2018 | 12:00 AMLivern Barrett/ Senior Gleaner Writer
From left: Kimmarley Cooper,Leslie Nugent and Carlos Howard in the Dunkirk community after being freed of murder charges yesterday.

A seven-member jury was empanelled late Monday and was expected to begin hearing evidence in the retrial of Kimarley Cooper, Carlos Howard and Leslie Nugent on the charge of murder when lead prosecutor Kathy Pyke revealed in the Home Circuit Court that she was offering no evidence against the men. The case has been ongoing for 17 years.

Justice Courtney Daye, who presided over the case, directed the jury to return a formal verdict of not guilty. A fourth accused, Damion Crossdale, did not turn up at court for the trial.

Pyke, in explaining the stunning turn of events, said that the main witness - the mother of the victim - acknowledged to her that she did not actually, witness the murder

of her son, 16-year-old Delroy Lawrence, who was shot and killed along York Street in Franklyn Town, east Kingston, in December 2001.

"She said that she saw part of the incident, but that was removed from the shooting ... sufficiently removed so that I don't think I can present a prima facie case," said Pyke.

However, that account is in stark contrast to the statement the woman had dictated to police investigators, in which she had claimed that Lawrence and friends were on Lower York Street "when suddenly I saw seven men coming out of a yard".

According to the statement, which was part of the evidence in the men's first murder trial in 2005, the woman said that all seven men had guns and claimed that one of them held on to her son's hand before the others converged on him.

"[I] also saw when [Cooper] pointed his gun at Delroy and fired one shot. The man released Delroy. I then saw [another accused] went up to Delroy and fired shots at him," she said in a section of the statement.

But pointing to more issues with the woman's account, Pyke said that a postmortem of Lawrence's body indicated that he was shot from behind.

"Entrance gunshot wound to right back of head, lower back of chest ... . Based on this, it appears that the deceased received those injuries with his back turned to the gun," the senior prosecutor said in the Home Circuit Court.

"It has become apparent that we can't go forward with the case because of the paucity of evidence. We would neither have direct or circumstantial evidence of the shooting," Pyke continued.

Top criminal-defence attorney Valerie Neita-Robertson who, along with Kymberli Whittaker, represented Howard free of cost, took a shot at the prosecuting authority, asserting that the case should not have gone to trial.

"The gunshot injuries were not consistent with the eyewitness account," Neita-Robertson insisted.

Despite this, she praised Pyke for "doing the right thing".

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com