Fear fuels not-guilty verdicts
Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer
WESTERN BUREAU:There are growing fears in St James that guilty men are being allowed to walk free because jurors are too afraid to deliver the correct verdict.
Last week, judges assigned to the St James Circuit Court lamented the overwhelming number of not-guilty verdicts returned by juries in the last two weeks.
"Even in cases where the quality of the evidence is good, they still find the defendants not guilty," lamented High Court judge Paulette Williams.
Williams blamed the situation on the jury system, the crop of jurors, and the fear of reprisal.
"Very few persons are turning out to serve as jurors, and I am not sure those who do are able to grapple with the quality of the evidence," she bemoaned during a cocktail reception hosted by Custos of St James Ewen Corrodus.
"So far, everybody put before them has been found not guilty because they are afraid to serve justice," argued Williams even as she pointed out that since she had been on the bench, she had had no knowledge of any retaliation against a juror.
"Yet they are reluctant to find people guilty," added Williams.
Mr Justice Donald McIntosh, who is having the same challenges with cases in his court, concurred.
setting the standard
McIntosh reminded the audience of mainly business people that it was the jurors in the parish who set the standard of justice.
He blamed the business community for not allowing some staff members to serve as jurors as well as persons of a certain ilk who refused to take part in the system.
"You all should have an interest in seeing it work," McIntosh stated as he lambasted those who believe they are too important to serve as jurors.
"They think it is menial, a waste of time, and puts them in danger without understanding the importance of the task," added McIntosh.
He gave a chilling warning of the implications.
"When you let out people whose offence is murder, it sets the stage for others to do the same because the jurors are going to let them off," he said.
McIntosh pointed fingers at some justices of the peace, who, he said, gave excuses to persons who didn't want to report for jury duty.
Acting Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Joan Barnett also bemoaned the not-guilty verdicts, arguing that this was an injustice to the country's children.
"The bulk of our list (in St James) is sexual offences, not murder anymore," Barnett revealed.
She gave the example of a 12-year-old girl who knew the man who allegedly molested her, yet he got off free.
"He was her stepfather. He admitted that he spent the entire day with her. She said he had sex with her - she had semen on the inside of the blouse - but the man refused to give a sample of his DNA, so it couldn't be tested."
A total of 34 cases are being tried over a three-week period in the St James Circuit Court with the bulk of the cases being sexual abuse.
However, the only guilty pleas so far are those where DNA analysis links the perpetrator to the victim.