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).
I had occasion to defend Mr Carlos Russell again in circumstances which found sympathy not only with the 12 jurors who tried him, but also with most others who learnt the details of the case.
Russell and his household (wife, daughter and stepson) retired to bed between 10 and 11 o'clock one night and sometime after midnight, the peace and quiet was shattered by a barrage of gunfire from M-16 rifles in the hands of two young Caymanian men who sprayed his house with bullets from stem to stern. At the sound of the first burst of gunfire, Mr Russell's two-year-old granddaughter, who slept between her father and her mother, woke up and sprung to a standing position in bed. Waking to see her in this dangerous position, her father rescued her from possible fatal harm in time by grabbing and diving off the bed with her. The following day an examination of their bedroom revealed that a bullet had passed along the direct path where the little girl had stood. Russell, who with his wife and daughter, occupied a bedroom at one end of the building, crept on his stomach down a passageway to the other end, until he reached the front dining room window where he slightly pulled the curtain apart, enabling him to see where the shots were being fired from and who the shooters were.
The police came later to investigate, but Russell spoke to no one, despite their best efforts to get him to give a statement. The morning after the shooting, he bedecked himself with a bulletproof vest and armed with a handgun, had a friend transport him to the Cayman General Hospital, where he suspected someone whom the police would describe as "a person of interest" was recuperating. Hospital employees saw him arrive at just about the time he saw emerging from one of the hospital doors, one of the two men he had seen firing at his house the night before. He would later testify in court that at the very moment he saw the assailant, "everything went red" and he began to chase him. The chase took them both through several departments and corridors until he caught up with the assailant and shot him several times. After a half-hearted attempt at escaping, he surrendered to the police, who by then, had arrived at the hospital.
Russell's defence was essentially one of extreme provocation, and so, when asked to plead to the offence of murder, his plea was not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter. The Crown refused to accept this plea.
Again, a turning point in the case was for the jury to see the photographs of the bullet holes to the house, as well as his granddaughter, who we ensured that the jury saw when she came to court with her mother. The jury accepted in effect, by its verdict, the case as advanced by Russell, and the learned trial Judge, Mr Justice Alexander Henderson, sentenced him to 11years, just as if he had pleaded guilty without putting the court to the expense of a trial.
Sentence normally reflects the question of whether or not the accused admitted his guilt. If he had not admitted his guilt and the court incurred the expense of a trial, this would have had the effect of increasing the sentence. So notwithstanding the fact that the case went to trial, which lasted eight days, that did not cause the court to increase his sentence, as from the outset, he had pleaded guilty to what he was eventually found guilty of.
Russell later testified in the case against the surviving assailant, who shot up his house and who was subsequently convicted and sentenced to 13 years.