Court orders retrial for cop convicted of teen’s murder
A new trial has been ordered in the case of ex-cop Rushon Hamilton, who was found guilty for the 2008 murder of a 14-year-old schoolgirl, but his defence team is confident that he will be vindicated in the end.
The ex-constable was ordered imprisoned for 35 years following his conviction in October 2012 for Jhaneel Goulbourne’s murder.
However, the Court of Appeal, on Friday quashed the conviction, set aside the sentence, and ordered a new trial, “in the interest of justice”.
Reacting to the Court of Appeal judgment, Hamilton’s lead counsel, Valerie Neita-Robertson, KC, said she was not surprised at the outcome.
“It’s a judgment that we were confident of getting based on the trial and instruction from our client,” she said. “We were pretty confident; can’t say he was confident, though. He was worried every day.”
At the same time, Neita-Robertson, who had argued the appeal with Robert Fletcher, said they are not happy with the retrial, but they will make a decision on the way forward after speaking with their client.
Asked about their prospects in the upcoming trial, she said, “Well we have done it already and I believe we can tweak it a little better this time. We believe in our client’s innocence.”
Hamilton was initially charged with carnal abuse after the girl after made a report to the police in October 2008. A few weeks later, she was standing at her gate in Harbour View, St Andrew, when she disappeared.
Two of the ex-constable’s cellmates as well as other prosecution witnesses had testified that Hamilton had confessed to the murder.
The appeal court, in quashing the conviction, said the trial judge made several errors in dealing with the evidence given against Hamilton by persons in custody.
“The reason for the quashing of the conviction has been brought about by the learned trial judge’s unfortunate omission, in an otherwise fair and balanced summation, to direct the jury in keeping with the principles set out in Pringle and Benedetto.
“It is apparent that, in the trial, the need for caution first arose on the Crown’s case. In our view, that need was further accentuated with the testimony of Brooks, whose evidence supported the defence advanced by the applicant, of a plot arrived at in an attempt to ‘frame’ him,” said Justice Frank Williams, who wrote the decision that was handed down today.
“Unfortunately, the summation does not show that any ‘special attention’ was given to the risks associated with cell confessions. It reads as any other summation would, addressing issues (primarily credibility) in the usual, expected way.”
The court also said that a close reading of the transcript of the trial “unfortunately reveals that the learned judge failed even to identify the things the witnesses Hinds and Bentley testified were said by the applicant as cell confessions”.
Devon Brooks was an inmate, who testified at the trial which was presided over by the now-retired Justice Lloyd Hibbert. He had told the court that he learnt of an alleged plot against Hamilton involving inmates Hinds and Bentley, both of whom were used by the prosecution.
The witnesses testified that while they were in custody with Hamilton, he confessed that in 2008, he shot Goulbourne, and threw her body at sea.
However, Hamilton denied the allegation in his unsworn statement.
He further maintained his innocence during the appeal, claiming he said he had no reason to kill the teenager, that the prosecution witnesses were connected, and that the case against him was all a part of a conspiracy to frame him.
In the meantime, Robertson said yesterday’s ruling is an important lesson for all attorneys.
“When you do what you are supposed to do as counsel and you are confident, you must pursue the matter. At the end of the day, you are never usually wrong when it comes to your assessment of a matter because as counsel, you have to be objective,” she said.