Excerpts from 'Born to Defend' - Bride in the Bath

Published: Sunday | October 7, 2012 Comments 0

Howard Hamilton, QC, is one of Jamaica's most noted criminal defence attorneys-at-law. 'Born to Defend', chronicles the highs and lows of a brilliant 50-year legal career in advocacy, which takes him across the 14 parishes of the island as well as the wider Caribbean. Sophisticated and urbane, yet compassionate and sincere, Hamilton recounts some of his most memorable cases with honesty, humility and humour including extracts from his 73 consecutive acquittals partnership with Patrick Atkinson, QC, (currently Jamaica's attorney general).

Having devoted more than 40 years of my life at the defence bar, I was persuaded to try my hand on the prosecution side, and accepted the undertaking to prosecute a 60-year-old husband, Rufus Duncan, in what was to be described in the media as the 'Bride in the Bath' case.

This case attracted that title because of its similarity to the renowned case with the same title from the English jurisdiction. I was joined in prosecuting the case by Mrs Vinette Graham-Allen, crown counsel, and attorney-at-law [Mr] Dorrrell Wilcott.

Rufus Duncan was charged with murdering his 45-year-old wife at their home in Green Site, Trelawny, where her body was found in a bathtub, on October 19, 1994. The evidence of the prosecution was that the accused lived in the United States for 30 years and the deceased lived in England for most of her life. They met after relocating to Jamaica. After they were married, they ended up occupying separate rooms in the matrimonial home due to the breakdown of their relationship, after what most would consider a too-short period. Kevin Moran, a schoolboy, who gave testimony for the prosecution, told the court that the couple had quarrelled on the morning of October 19, 1994, over porridge, which had been prepared for breakfast. He also testified that for the first time since he boarded with the couple, Mr Duncan gave him a ride to Falmouth, Trelawny, the same morning, to enable him to catch another vehicle to school.

In his defence, Rufus Duncan, who was represented by attorneys-at-law Mr Ernest Smith and Mr George Soutar, said he left home at noon on October 19 for Montego Bay, to balance his tyres. He told the court that he returned home at 5:30 p.m., but did not enter the house at that time. Instead, he parked his Toyota pickup and drove his Volkswagen bus to Falmouth to keep a promise he had made to pick up his wife there. He said that at approximately 6:30 p.m. he went back home and while making his way into the house, he heard the radio playing and the shower running, which he thought was unusual. He proceeded to the bathroom to investigate and found his wife lying dead in the bath.

The case was a fine example of thorough police investigation for the way in which it highlighted the difference in the result that can be achieved when the investigation by the police is held to its highest standard. There was no eyewitness to the incident, so the prosecution had to rely on circumstantial and scientific evidence. However, the real turning point in the case came from the Government forensic analyst, Ms Sherron Brydson, who, despite obvious intensive efforts at wiping all traces of blood from the crime scene, was able to find and identify tell-tale traces and specimens in locations where a desperate criminal, in haste, may have overlooked.

In her opinion, the injury of the deceased occurred in the bedroom, following which she was placed in the bathtub.

It was a classic case of 'whodunit', in which, for example, what may have seemed trivial suddenly assumed enormous significance. For example, the fact that the accused claimed the deceased was found dead in the bath but still wearing her jewels, a fact which immediately aroused the suspicion of her sister who told the Court that the deceased would never bathe in her jewels.

Rufus Duncan was found guilty of non-capital murder by the trial jury in the Manchester Circuit Court and sentenced to life imprisonment by Mr Justice Pitter, who recommended he serve 10 years before being eligible for parole.

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