Thu | Dec 7, 2023

Judge flags ID issues in murder-arson witness testimony

Published:Tuesday | January 31, 2023 | 1:24 AMTanesha Mundle/Staff Reporter

Chief Justice Bryan Sykes signalled on Monday that evidence given by one of the former Clansman-One Don gang members about a double murder and arson incident may not be of any use to the Crown.

Continuing his summation in the Home Circuit Court, the judge said that the witness’ account of his observation at a gathering with the alleged gangsters before the incident may not meet the legal standards in terms of identification as he had failed to say how he was able to see the persons charged on the night in question.

Jermaine Bryan and Cedella Walder were reportedly murdered in bed on September 9, 2017, when members of the gang reportedly stormed the New Nursery community in St Catherine in search of ‘Bobo Sparks’, an alleged top shooter in a rival faction of the gang.

The alleged gangsters had reportedly torched a house with the couple inside after shooting them. Their bodies were burnt beyond recognition.

Reputed leader Andre ‘Blackman’ Bryan is alleged to have killed the man while his alleged bodyguard, defendant Tareek James, is said to have murdered the other victim.

The prosecution’s two main witnesses, who are self-confessed members of the gang, had testified about the incident and about a meeting held on Jones Avenue in Spanish Town between the alleged gangsters before the attack.

The witness whose testimony is in doubt had told the court that he was not at the scene when the shooting and arson occurred.

He said that during the meeting, Bryan instructed him to patrol the roads near the community to ensure that no police were in sight. He further testified that while on the lookout, he heard the explosions.

The witness, who had described his role as Bryan’s personal driver and the gang’s banker, had told the trial that on the night of the incident, he had seen a crate with about 12 bottle bombs.

But in summing up the witness’ evidence on Monday, Justice Sykes pointed to a legal hurdle that exists in the witness’ accounts.

“When you look at the evidence of Mr ... , on the night of the incident when the persons alleged to have gathered by Ms ... yard, there is not one word saying anything about lighting, absolutely nothing.

“So the question then becomes, how would the legal standards of Turnbull be satisfied?” he said.

The judge explained that based on the principle that governs identification, answers would be needed for certain critical questions, including the witness indicating how he was able to see, by what means of lighting, the distance, and whether there was anything blocking or enhancing his ability to see.

However, Sykes said that the witness’ evidence did not answer those answers. Nor did the witness indicate for how long he had observed the men whom he claimed were present.

Bryan and James, along with defendants Dylan McLean, Brian Morris, Jahzeel Blake, Michael Whitely, and Fabian Johnson, are all charged on counts 7 and 8 of the indictment for facilitating the commission of murder and arson.

The witness had testified to seeing all of the above-named defendants on the night in question.

The other ex-gangster, a former community don who had placed all of the defendants except for Morris and Johnson at the gathering, had testified that natural light and a bulb had enabled him to see. He testified that two groups of men went on the mission, adding that he was in a group with Bryan and the men whom he had named.

However, there was no mention of lighting in his accounts about the journey to the community and what had transpired in the community.

The judge said the court, in this instance, is being asked to infer that the group of men with whom the witness was travelling was the same group of men who carried out the murder and arson.

In relation to the discrepancy between those who were named by the witnesses, the judge said that the Crown seems to be suggesting that it does not matter as they all ended up at the victims’ home.

Justice Sykes, however, indicated that the success for the Crown on these two counts “rests almost exclusively, if not exclusively” on the evidence of the community don and not so much on the other witness.

Bryan and 26 alleged gang members are being tried on an indictment with multiple counts of offences under the Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organizations) Act and the Firearms Act.

One of the defendants, Andre Smith, was shot and killed last August while five others were freed.

Justice Sykes will continue his summation today.