By LAMECH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE COURT of Appeal has deferred its decision on whether a police sergeant is to be retried in Magistrate’s Court on claims he had sex with two underage girls.
Crown prosecutors Vernal Collie and Ralph Munroe submitted to Justices Christopher Blackman, Stanley John and Abdulai Conteh that a magistrate’s acquittal of 43-year-old Juan Pratt on two charges of unlawful sexual intercourse was unreasonable.
The Crown’s submissions, along with counter arguments from defending attorney Murrio Ducille, lasted nearly an hour before the court said it would deliver it’s position on the appeal at a later date.
Prior to his acquittal in February 2010, it was alleged that at some time between May 5 and May 6, 2007, Mr Pratt had sex with two girls, ages 14 and 15, at his home.
The girls, who are wards of the state, were put in the care of Mr Pratt and his wife, who was off the island at the time of the alleged incident.
The prosecution produced no DNA evidence in the matter and closed its case in June 2009. In August of that year, Mr Ducille made a “no case submission” on behalf of his client, arguing that the prosecution had failed to produce a prima facie case against him.
Magistrate Jones ruled that the no-case submission had failed and that a prima facie case had been established.
Mr Pratt denied the allegations when he gave an unsworn statement in court. He said he took the girls to the bowling alley and gave them $20, then went home and fell asleep.
He said the girls came into his room and into the bed.
He testified that at no point did he have sex with them or touch them in any way.
In February 2010, Magistrate Jones acquitted Mr Pratt of the charges.
In yesterday’s hearing, Justice John asked the prosecutor to explain his position.
Mr Collie said that the magistrate, having heard the testimony of the complainants, found them credible and the evidence compelling, but that the acquittal did not reflect this initial stance.
The Crown submitted that Pratt should be sent to another magistrate to be retried.
Justice Conteh noted that even though “they were credible, don’t forget that the burden of the prosecution is to make a case that is beyond a reasonable doubt”.
“What she did not say at the end, she was not satisfied, but that is an inference to be made,” Justice Conteh added.
Mr Collie noted that the evidence of the complainants was corroborated as both claimed Pratt had sex with them in the presence of each other.
However, Justice Conteh said this does not meet the requirements of corroboration. Justice John disagreed with his colleague on this point.
Mr Collie also claimed the judge made an error in law, misdirecting herself on an authority concerning the corroboration of evidence.
Justice Blackman asked the prosecutor if, based on this point alone, the Crown was asking the court to send the matter back for retrial.
The prosecutor said yes.
When asked by Justice John for his view, Mr Ducille disagreed with the prosecution’s submission and argued that based on the law books and the amended Court of Appeal Act, the appellate court is devoid of jurisdiction concerning the remittal of this particular matter.
He said even if the magistrate misdirected herself in law, she still had to have been satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt concerning the evidence.