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Do away with capital punishment

Published:Tuesday | March 20, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Linton P. Gordon, Contributor

There has been widespread condemnation of the alleged forged statement that was presented to the court in the well-publicised case of The Crown vs Eldon Calvert for murder.

During the trial in the Supreme Court, the accused was presented as a dangerous person, and in recognition of this on each court date, the Supreme Court was ringed with heavily armed soldiers and police. The accused man, Calvert, was escorted to and from the high-security Horizon Remand Centre for his court appearance by heavily armed soldiers and police.

As part of the prosecution of the accused, it was presented to the court that there was a vital witness who gave a statement in the matter, but who had since then been killed.

Now it should be noted that in recent times our law was changed to provide that, in certain circumstances, the evidence of a witness who has been killed, or who has been forced to flee, or who is being kept away by threats and other acts of intimidation, can be admitted in court.

A statement was presented to the court by Detective Sgt Michael Sirjue. Sirjue alleged that this was a statement of a witness who had been killed. It was the intention of the prosecution, led by Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn, to tender this statement by the alleged dead witness in evidence.

This damning statement could have led to the conviction of Calvert of capital murder, which is punishable by death. However, a handwriting expert revealed that Det Sgt Sirjue concocted and fraudulently wrote the alleged witness statement which was being presented to jurors for them to rely on to convict Calvert.

Had Calvert been convicted, he could have been sentenced to death.

So many botched cases

There is a vital aspect of this matter that we need to put on the table: capital punishment. I do not believe in capital punishment, and I am aware that many of my fellow citizens believe in it. The call for capital punishment to be carried out usually heightens whenever there is an escalation in crime or a gruesome crime has been committed.

The Calvert case should bring home to all concerned the dangers, risks and uncertainties involved in criminal trials. We should ask ourselves if there are persons now on death row who were sentenced to death because of outright lies and fraud by police personnel and indeed other witnesses.

We should also be guided by the experience in the United States where many persons who were on death row have been released from prison after DNA evidence proved that they were wrongly convicted and sentenced to death.

The best conclusion we can arrive at from the Calvert case is a consensus that capital punishment should be abolished from our legal system.

Linton P. Gordon is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and lpgordon@cwjamaica.com.