Mon | Jan 17, 2022

‘Fatal error’

Court overturns murder conviction in slaying of 12-y-o boy

Published:Thursday | December 2, 2021 | 12:10 AMChristopher Thomas/Gleaner Writer


The Court of Appeal has issued an order to overturn the 2016 conviction of Russell Samms, who was found guilty and serving time for the 2012 shooting death of 12-year-old Ricardo Dove as he slept at home.

A retrial is to take place in the Westmoreland Circuit Court, where the matter was first heard.

In the ruling, which was finalised on November 26, a panel of appellate judges – justices Frank Williams, Jennifer Straw, and Cresencia Brown-Beckford – agreed that Samms’ appeal should be granted on the grounds that the presiding judge at his trial had blundered in the management of evidence used to convict him.

“The learned trial judge made a fatal error in admitting evidence that was highly prejudicial to the appellant, without any comment or directions to the jury. This requires that the conviction be quashed and the sentence set aside. The interests of justice require that a retrial be ordered,” the appellate judges’ ruling stated.

No date was recommended for Samms’ retrial.

Samms was convicted of Dove’s murder on February 19, 2016 and sentenced two months later to life imprisonment. The court had then stipulated that he would be eligible for parole after serving 25 years.

On April 20, 2016 – four days after the sentence was handed down – attorney Jacqueline Cummings filed an appeal on Samms’ behalf, citing discrepancies and inconsistencies in the prosecution’s case.

The application pointed to prejudicial statements in the eyewitness account during the trial and the absence of a scene-of-crime compact disc from the evidence, which was available at that time.

During the initial trial, evidence was given by prosecution witness Robert Dove, the father of the deceased, who stated he saw Samms in the family yard on the night of May 7, 2012, when he was killed.

However, in an unsworn statement in his own defence, Samms argued that he had been at his girlfriend’s house for several hours on the day of the incident and that he had been in an extended telephone conversation with her following that visit and was at home thereafter. He also stated that he did not own a firearm, and denied having killed anyone.

Additionally, Samms’ defence pointed to the unreliability of the witness identification, particularly the quality of the lighting on the night of the killing and inconsistencies as to whether there was a light on at the home at the time the incident occurred.

In submitting Samms’ appeal, Cummings pointed to the lack of forensic evidence, differing dates in the witness statement, discrepancies in the length of time the witness claimed to have seen Samms, and the presence of bloodstains outside the house, albeit the deceased was killed in his bed.

It was also submitted that Samms’ defence attorney at his trial had not properly presented his case before the jury, having failed to cross-examine Robert Dove with information suggesting that he had been charged with shooting at Samms and, therefore, had a motive to lie against the defendant.