By LAMECH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
PRINCE Hepburn, 50, was unanimously convicted of the murder of Nellie Brown-Cox, the woman he intended to marry once his divorce had gone through.
However, his attorney indicated that the conviction would be appealed as early as today, ahead of the scheduled May 22 sentencing when Hepburn faces up to life imprisonment.
The jury was given two verdicts by Justice Indra Charles on which to decide before she excused them at 1:05pm yesterday. Based on the evidence presented in the seven trial days it was a choice between murder or manslaughter.
However, the jury based on its verdict, did not accept that Hepburn’s actions of April 6 and 7, 2011 were not premeditated and that he had experienced a brief psychotic breakdown as explained by Dr Michael Neville on Monday.
Murrio Ducille, leading defence counsel, commented on the case’s outcome, noting the speed at which the verdict was returned and his plans to appeal the verdict.
“It was not an easy case and they (jury) came back in such a short time, it meant that they had predetermined the case. They came back with their minds made up, but, of course, it does not end here,” he said.
“Obviously, I have to file an appeal promptly. Obviously, the jury weren’t listening to the case. They had their minds made up based on the horrific nature of the offence. And totally discounted what Dr Neville had to say, whose evidence went uncontroverted, an expert. Also, the fact that the prosecution sought to call Dr Dedrick Bowe, whose report when looked at, had an acute psychotic behaviour which came about in a sort of quick way.”
“So all this was discounted and all this was on the record from day one. The defence did not come to say that he was totally exonerated. He was partially responsible. But his responsibility was predicated on diminished responsibility based on the circumstances of the case and nothing else.”
Public prosecutions deputy director Franklyn Williams declined to comment on the outcome of the case, as did the estranged husband and daughter of Nellie Brown-Cox.
Background of the Case
Hepburn was charged with causing the death of Brown-Cox, the 42-year-old former president of the Bahamas Heart Association.
Hepburn and Brown-Cox were involved in an extramarital affair. They had both tried to divorce their spouses to be together.
Brown-Cox was found dead in the kitchen of an apartment on Bougainvillea Blvd, South Beach, with multiple stab wounds.
Hepburn, her partner at the time, was charged in connection with her death six days later when he was arraigned in the Magistrate’s Court.
Since his arraignment in the Supreme Court, Hepburn has denied the murder charge and through his attorney Murrio Ducille, maintained that he could not accept responsibility for murder because he was not in the right frame of mind as testified by Dr Neville, a psychiatrist of more than 30 years experience. It was explained that at the time he was suffering from “diminished responsibility.”
Evidence in the trial reveals that Hepburn admitted killing his lover. Supt Theophilus Cunningham said that on April 7, 2011, the contractor made the confession as he came out of the apartment in which Nellie Mae Brown-Cox, 42, was found dead.
“I spent over $1 million on this woman. I left my wife for her and she gone scheme on me? I couldn’t live with that. I had to kill her,” the Superintendent quoted Hepburn as saying. He said that these were Hepburn’s exact words to him when he instructed him to step outside of the apartment complex.
However, Mr Ducille suggested to the officer that those words were never uttered by his client.
Anya James, who testified that she knew Hepburn and Brown-Cox from their interactions, and travelling together, said she had called Hepburn’s phone on the morning in question concerning the family home the contractor was building for her and her husband.
She went to the soon-to-be family home and made another attempt to call Hepburn.
“Yea?” she said the person answered. She said that “the voice didn’t sound the same” as the voice she was used to.
“And I said ‘Prince?’ and the person said ‘Yea?’ I asked what happened. ‘Why you sound like that?’” Mrs James said she asked.
“He said to me,” she said he began, appearing to find difficulty in saying the next words… “‘I kill Nellie. Nellie break my heart. Nellie was cheating on me.”
“I asked him ‘What?’” She said he repeated the statement.“Prince you joking,” she said. “Where’s Nellie?” she then asked.
“Nellie’s dead,” he replied, adding that it happened the night before and he was waiting for the police.
Mrs James said she locked up the place and called an officer she knew and gave him the information before leaving for work. “I was still in disbelief,” she said.
Mr Ducille suggested to this witness that she, based on her own testimony, could not have been sure who she was talking to on the phone.
James said she was sure it was Prince Hepburn with whom she was on the phone.
Princess Margaret Hospital pathologist Dr Caryn Sands gave evidence about the autopsy report done on Brown-Cox days after her death. Dr Sands concluded that the deceased died as a result of more than two-dozen lacerations and injuries to her body.
The pathologist said that some nine cut wounds were found on Brown-Cox’s head and more about her torso and extremities.
Marissa Roe, a forensics analyst and manager of the Fairfax Identity Laboratory in Richmond, Virginia, told the court that Hepburn’s and Brown-Cox’s DNA were in the samples tested and there was no likelihood of anyone having the same profile in the Bahamas, in the US or in the world.
She admitted under cross-examination by Mr Ducille that there were other profiles on the samples found that did not belong to either the victim or accused in the case.
Dr Deedric Bowe, the physician who treated Hepburn at the Princess Margaret Hospital on April 7, 2011, claimed that Hepburn had informed him that he had seen with his own eyes, Nellie Brown-Cox meeting up with the man from away, and followed them for confirmation of the affair.
However, when he questioned his sweetheart on numerous occasions, she denied the affair.
“The night of the incident, they were sitting down watching television and he asked her again about the affair and she said something that infuriated him,” Dr Bowe said in relaying his conversation with Hepburn.
Hepburn told him it was at this time that he got the cutlass and chopped her to death before also cutting himself.
Mr Ducille asked the physician if the report he had prepared contained anything about what he had told the court.
“Not in my writing,” Dr Bowe replied.
“Have you given medical evidence of findings or prognosis?” Mr Ducille asked. The physician said no, but at the end of his report he had made a note for a follow-up physician to query acute kidney injury, para-suicide and a temporary psychosis.
Dr Michael Neville, a psychiatrist, claimed the depression Hepburn experienced after learning his sweetheart was cheating on him caused a chemical imbalance in his brain that led him to attempt suicide and chop her to death.
Relying on 30 years of professional experience, research and his interviews with the 50-year-old accused contractor, Dr Neville, who has his practice in the Bahamas, told the court that in his opinion Hepburn developed a depressive illness and his thinking on that day was “irrational.”
However, Mr Williams for the prosecution, put it to the psychiatrist that Hepburn’s actions, based on his testimony, appeared to be premeditated. Dr Neville disagreed.
Other witnesses came to court and testified that Hepburn was a “humble”, “honest”, and “Christian” man whose actions on the day in question were totally out of character.
In yesterday’s proceedings, which began at 9:15am, closing addresses were delivered by counsel to the jury.
Hepburn’s attorney, Murrio Ducille, argued that his client was not aware of what he was doing on the night of April 6 and 7, 2011 while at the apartment in South Beach.
Mr Ducille told the jurors that they could only convict Hepburn on the strength of the prosecution’s case as his client was presumed innocent until proven otherwise.
“Our position is, his responsibility was diminished at the time,” the defending counsel explained.
Mr Ducille asked the jury to look at the evidence of the defence’s main witness, psychiatrist Dr Michael Neville and compare it with what Dr Dedrick Bowe said about Hepburn possibly having a “brief psychotic breakdown.”
“Dr Neville is an expert in his field,” the attorney said.
The psychiatrist noted that Hepburn was having a mental breakdown because of the devastation of finding out about her affair and he “had no control over himself at the time.”
Regarding the evidence of the prosecution’s witnesses, like Anya James, Mr Ducille noted that her evidence only reflected what Hepburn’s witnesses said in court when they spoke highly of his character and his humble and mild mannered nature.
He said, Mrs James, out of her own mouth, expressed disbelief that Hepburn did what he claimed to have done because of how much he had loved his mistress.
Mr Ducille, again referring to Dr Neville, said that his client’s despair led to irrational thoughts that he and Nellie’s deaths were the only solution to end the despair.
In response, public prosecution’s deputy director Franklyn Williams said that “there is no doubt, and there should be no doubt” that Prince Hepburn killed Nellie Brown-Cox on the night in question.
“We know of this because on at least three occasions, he said it to three persons, Anya James, Theophilis Cunningham (Supt of Police) and Dr Bowe.”
The prosecutor suggested that he killed her because he didn’t want anyone else to have her.
“You don’t kill the one you love,” the prosecutor said.
Mr Williams said that what Hepburn said to both Dr Bowe and Dr Neville is reflected on the cutlasses found at the scene of the crime, “this is what cheaters get”, “liars and cheaters” and “your next George Sawyer.”
The inscriptions, the prosecutor said, are consistent with his intention, which he told both medical practitioners.
Mr Williams also claimed that three hours with Hepburn for an examination was insufficient time to come to Dr Neville’s conclusion, which he noted was not objective because he only spoke with Hepburn.
Mr Williams also referred to Dr Neville’s own answer that intention was shown on Hepburn’s part to buy a cutlass when he already had access to one.
The prosecutor said this shows premeditation, that Hepburn planned what he was going to do, despite the alleged depression.
“All of the evidence points to rational, orderly and thinking planning,” the prosecutor concluded.
Following the closing submissions by counsel, Justice Charles summarized the evidence in the case before excusing the jury to consider the verdicts on murder and manslaughter.
To convict Hepburn of murder, she said, the jury was required to return a unanimous verdict. For acquittal, at least two-thirds of the jury must find him not guilty of the murder charge. Anything less, according to Bahamian law, is unacceptable.
She said the issue of manslaughter arose due to the evidence of Dr Neville and the defence, who claims that Hepburn’s mind was impaired at the time due to a depressive illness. Justice Charles said it was up to the jury to decide if this was the case. A unanimous verdict was not required.
In the end, having deliberated for 90 minutes, the jury returned with a unanimous guilty verdict that got no visible reaction from Hepburn or family and friends of Brown-Cox or Hepburn.
Justice Charles formally convicted Hepburn of murder and deferred sentencing to May 22, where psychiatric and social inquiry reports will be presented in court,
Hepburn was escorted by policemen out of court in handcuffs and shackles to a holding cell.
He was defended by Mr Ducille, Krysta Mason-Smith and Nathan Smith.
Mr Williams prosecuted the case alongside Kendra Kelly and Basil Cumberbatch.