Man freed of murder charge after 100 court appearances - Matter should not have dragged on for so long, says Chuck
It took 13 years and at least 94 court appearances before 10 judges and four prosecutors before a murder case against Lynford Allen was tossed for lack of evidence.
It’s a situation Justice Minister Delroy Chuck admits should not have happened.
Allen, who describes himself as a country boy who came to town seeking to join the army, believes he fell victim to the police’s desire to convict someone for the 2005 murder of 28-year-old financial analyst Jaime Lue.
The Crown alleged that Lue was abducted in the Constant Spring area in December 2005 and taken to Grants Pen, St Andrew, where he was forced to give up the PIN numbers for his debit cards. Withdrawals were then made from automated machines at several banks.
Lue was then shot dead and his body discovered in the back of his Honda CR-V along Mayfair Avenue on December 31, 2005.
Allen was among six persons, including two women, charged in the wake of the murder. He was the last to be freed of the charges.
Speaking with The Sunday Gleaner recently, Allen recounted the early-morning raid when Flying Squad officer took him and his then girlfriend from the room in which they slept in Grants Pen. For three weeks, neither knew where the other was in the police lock-up system, and for 49 days, he saw neither a judge nor lawyer.
When his girlfriend was released on bail, she began a search at various lock-ups for him. When he was found in Portmore, he was visited by the first lawyer he saw, who the police said was sent by his parents but he later discovered was a state-provided legal aid counsel.
“I am certain that I go to court more than 100 times,” he said. “I went to Half-Way Tree court more than four times, and even the day when the judge offered me bail is not on the list from the DPP’s (director of public prosecutions) office. But what they have on record is 94 times.”
The list he referred to – prepared by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions – chronicled Allen’s court appearances in a June 20, 2020 letter to attorney-at-law John Clarke.
It shows that he was charged on March 17, 2006 and his first court appearance came nearly eight months later, on November 2. His final court appearance was on October 8, 2019, when the matter was dismissed.
Abuse of state power, says lawyer
Allen believes the justice system is designed to send poor people to prison even when they are not guilty.
“I went before 10 judges and four prosecutors. One of them (prosecutors) got a fiat (special permission) from the DPP to try the case,” he recounted.
“You know what hurt me most of all? One of the prosecutors looked at my lawyer and say, ‘Alright, John Clarke. Everybody know say you a poor people lawyer.’ And mi turn ‘round and say, ‘Yeah, that’s why yuh want mi guh a prison just because me poor’. And she report say me threaten her,” Allen told The Sunday Gleaner.
“It burn me, because it means that the State waan send me guh prison, even when it know it never have no case against me. They keep coming to court and giving reason after reason until the judge find me not guilty based on their case. It not right, miss. It not right,” he said, the pain heavy in his voice.
Allen disclosed that he now has to seek medical attention regularly because of beatings he received while in custody. Three weeks ago, he missed a scheduled interview because he was admitted to hospital.
“They wanted me to become a witness for the State, but I tell them I don’t know anything about the murder. They delay and delay and delay, like they trying to beat something out of me or force me to say something, and I keep telling them I don’t know anything about the murder,” he said.
Allen said the regular pain he feels are part of the scars from the incarceration.
He is now bringing a suit against the State, and his lawyer, Clarke, told The Sunday Gleaner that Allen could not have committed the murder as medical records show he was hospitalised at the time.
Clarke believes Allen was being schooled to become a Crown witness.
“It’s was an abuse of power by the State, and it has been going on for a long time, and it happens mostly to poor, black people,” the attorney said.
“Prisoners are treated better than detainees at the Horizon Remand Centre. As an unconvicted man, he had less rights than the convicts,” Clarke added.
Chuck: It should never have happened
Justice Minister Delroy Chuck told The Sunday Gleaner that while he is not aware of this specific case, the details as related by our news team were alarming.
“It is really quite unconstitutional to drag a case out for such a long period and take an accused person back to court in excess of 10, 30 times, much less 94 times. To my mind, at some point, the Crown should have made a decision to stop the case by nolle prosequi (a formal notice of abandonment by a plaintiff or prosecutor of all or part of a suit), or if the Crown fails to do so, it is my view that the courts should dismiss the case for want of prosecution,” he said.
“I just think it’s an injustice to be taking accused persons back to court over and over and over again. It should never have happened,” the justice minister said.
Chuck added that during his more than 30 decades in the courts, in many instances in the parish courts, individuals were charged with very little evidence.
“Whenever I appeared as counsel, I would ask the judge to note the number of court appearances, and ask that we agree to dismiss after the 10th or 15th time for want of prosecution,” he said.
His experience during those days led him to believe that 90 per cent of cases in the parish courts were not ready for trial.
Chuck admits that the system needs to be fixed and he wants a five-year cap on court appearances.
“There needs to be a tidying up of the criminal justice system so that firstly, there should be a proper case against a person before they are charged. Secondly, he should not be going to court for longer than five years. If the case can’t be tried within five years, it should be dismissed,” he said. “The DPP and her office must ensure that the matters are dealt with in a timely manner. Any case over five years should be dismissed.”
He added: “I would urge and argue that the Crown, where it is unable to complete a case within five years and after 15 or 20 appearances, should really consider whether the matter should not be dismissed.”