Kartel and co-accused return to Court of Appeal today in fresh push for freedom

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(PHOTO: BRYAN CUMMINGS)

JAMAICA OBSERVER- LAWYERS representing dancehall star Vybz Kartel and his co-accused Shawn ‘’Shawn Storm” Campbell, Kahira Jones, and Andre St John are headed to the Court of Appeal this morning in another bid to secure their freedom.

But prosecutors from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions will be in court trying to convince the panel of judges that the four should face a fresh trial for the 2011 murder of Clive “Lizard” Williams.

The Court of Appeal is scheduled to begin hearing arguments today to determine whether to order a retrial for the four or set them free.

The hearing is scheduled to last for five days with lawyers on both sides having submitted skeleton arguments to the court last month.

Kartel and his co-accused are back before the Court of Appeal after a March 14 ruling by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council that the appeals against their convictions should be allowed and their convictions quashed on the grounds of juror misconduct.

The Privy Council further ruled that the case should be remitted to the Court of Appeal for it to decide whether to order a retrial of the men or a dismissal.

People, some of them supporters of incarcerated dancehall artiste Vybz Kartel, are seen outside the Supreme Court in downtown Kingston when a judge rejected a habeas corpus application filed by his attorney. (Photo: Llewellyn Wynter)

In April 2014 Kartel was sentenced to life in prison with eligibility of parole after serving 35 years. His co-accused were also handed life sentences —with Shawn Storm and Jones being eligible for parole after serving 25 years, and St John being eligible after serving 15 years.

The four men first appealed their sentences in the Court of Appeal but the convictions were upheld.

They then journeyed to the Privy Council and argued various grounds, including the admissibility of telecommunication evidence, allegations of juror misconduct, and undue pressure on the jury to reach a verdict after a late retirement.

The Privy Council sided with lawyers representing the men as it accepted that the jury had been tainted with one juror offering a bribe to his colleagues to return a not guilty verdict.

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According to the Privy Council, while it had considerable sympathy with the dilemma faced by the judge in the murder trial following discovery of jury tampering attempts, allowing the tainted juror to continue in the case was fatal to the verdict.

“The board is very mindful of the serious consequences which may flow from having to discharge a jury shortly before the end of a long and complex trial. It is also very conscious of the danger of deliberate attempts to derail criminal trials by engineering situations in which it is necessary to discharge a jury,” Lord Lloyd-Jones said in delivering the judgment.

He added that there should have been no question of allowing the tainted juror to continue as doing so put the safety of the verdict at risk and was an infringement of the defendants’ fundamental rights to a fair hearing.

Following the Privy Council’s ruling, lawyers representing Kartel, and two of his co-accused, made an unsuccessful habeas corpus application for them to be considered for bail.

But Supreme Court Justice Andrea Thomas ruled that in the absence of a verdict of acquittal by the Privy Council, the charge of murder remained in effect for Kartel, Campbell and St John.

In declaring that their present custodial status was not in breach of the constitution, Justice Thomas told a packed courtroom at the Supreme Court in downtown Kingston that, “In view of the fact that their appeal is not yet determined, they should remain in custody until their appeal is concluded.”

“That is until a verdict of acquittal is entered or there is a decision for a retrial,” Thomas said.

One co-accused Jones, who is reportedly facing another charge, was not included in the habeas corpus application.

Following the Privy Council’s ruling, Kartel questioned the need for a retrial in a statement to
Fox 5 News, saying, “I feel victorious in this very moment as the Privy Council, in their infinite wisdom, understood the assignment and remedied the situation by quashing my conviction! I am now back to being an innocent man in the eyes of the law. A grave injustice was done to me and my co-accused in the original trial… and my cries were heard in the land’s highest court.”

He added: “I am confident that the Court of Appeal in Jamaica will do the right thing in the name of equity, fairness, and justice, and free us. Some people have expressed their concern to me that a retrial may be ordered, but to them I say (albeit with my limited knowledge of the law), ‘What is there to retry?’”

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