Three strikes for cop killer - Court of Appeal confirms murder conviction after third trial
A St Andrew man who ambushed a beloved police corporal and sprayed him with bullets then twice dodged murder convictions has finally been put away.
The Court of Appeal, in a decision handed down on Tuesday, confirmed the murder conviction of Christopher Thomas, 32, which came after his third trial. Thomas' sentence has, however, been reduced from 40 years in prison at hard labour to 28 and a half years. He will be eligible for parole after serving 20 years.
Thomas first went on trial in February 2008 for the brutal slaying of detective Corporal Dave Daley in the Brook Avenue area on February 12, 2007. Two eyewitnesses testified during the trial that someone tossed a stone the size of a cricket ball from one of the high-rise apartments along Brook Avenue and that the stone fell in front of the car Daley was driving.
According to the eyewitnesses, Daley got out of his car, gun in hand, and began chasing a man, identified as Joel Anderson, who was standing nearby. The corporal reportedly fired a shot that struck Anderson and was walking towards the wounded man when Thomas crept up behind him.
The eyewitnesses testified that Thomas pulled a gun from his waist and shot Daley in his back and continued firing after the cop had fallen to the ground. They said that Thomas went over and viewed Anderson's body then returned, and, along with a crony, sprayed Daley with bullets again.
According to them, the police corporal was heard "murmuring and crying for help" before he succumbed to his injuries.
The trial ended with a hung jury.
After a second murder trial in May 2010, Thomas was convicted of murder and given the mandatory life sentence, with the stipulation that he should serve 30 years before he became eligible for parole.
But 16 months later, he challenged both the conviction and sentence and had them quashed by the Court of Appeal, which also ordered a new trial. "The ground on which the appeal succeeded was that the conduct of prosecuting counsel in the cross-examination of a witness for the defence and the trial judge's inaction in the face of it were such as to undermine the integrity of the trial and thereby render it unfair," the Appeal Court explained.
Following his third murder trial in July 2013, Thomas was again found guilty and sentenced to 40 years in prison at hard labour with the stipulation that he serve 20 years before being eligible for parole.
But Thomas again challenged his conviction on similar grounds. He claimed that his right to a fair trial was "fatally compromised" by "persistently improper conduct on the part of prosecuting counsel" as she led a police witness through his evidence and during cross-examination of Thomas.
However, the court disagreed, ruling that the presiding judge's "plainly disapproving interventions" in both instances and his "unequivocal directions to the jury" as to how to treat them were sufficient.
"We think it is fair to conclude that prosecuting counsel's conduct would not have diverted the jury in any way from their duty to return a true verdict in accordance with the evidence. The assumption must be, as it seems to us that the jury heard, listened to and gave effect to what the judge had to say," the court ruled.