By LAMECH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
A SUPREME Court jury that heard evidence in the Bahamas’ first human trafficking trial unanimously convicted a woman of withholding the passports of two women and forcing them into prostitution.
Chevanese “Sasha” Hall was found guilty on four counts of trafficking in persons (9-0 on all) and two counts (8-1, 6-3) of withholding identification papers. Hall, who did not visibly react to the announcement of the guilty verdicts, had nothing to say when Senior Justice Jon Isaacs asked if she wanted to say anything before sentencing was passed against her.
However, the 24-year-old foreign national will not face sentencing for another six weeks (May 7) after her lawyer Jiaram Mangra requested that a probation report be prepared for his client’s plea in mitigation and to assist the court in determining a proper sentence.
The judge obliged the request and ordered the probation report be done before informing Hall that she would be remanded to Her Majesty’s Prison until that time.
Hall, under police escort, left court some paces behind Mr Mangra who spoke to the press about the outcome of the historic case.
“As in all criminal trials, the jury has spoken,” he said.
“They have determined that the accused is guilty of the offences for which she is charged and, of course, this is an historic case, being the first of its kind tried in the Supreme Court of the Bahamas. While we respect the verdict of the jury, we have been instructed to proceed with an appeal of that verdict and that, of course, can only be done once the sentencing phase is complete,” he added.
“The judge has ordered that the necessary reports be completed to advise us properly so that we could recommend to the judge what would be an appreciate sentence after which we have been instructed to file an appeal,” Mr Mangra said.
When asked about his client’s view on the verdict, he said, “Of course she is disappointed, but she accepts the verdict as delivered by the jury even though she does not agree with it.”
“And that is on the basis in which she has instructed us to file an appeal because in her estimation, the verdict of the jury was not the proper verdict based on the evidence produced in the trial.”
Hall was arraigned last February in Magistrate’s Court on four counts of trafficking of a person, and two counts of unlawful withholding of papers, alleged to have been committed between January 10 and 28, 2013.
When formally arraigned in Supreme Court, she pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.
In Tuesday’s proceedings, Hall spoke through her lawyer Jiaram Mangra in an attempt to convince the jury that she did not commit the crimes of which she was accused.
Mr Mangra told the jury that the Crown had no real “concrete evidence to produce” in this case.
“What did they resort to? Collusion, concoction and fabrication to incriminate the accused,” the lawyer submitted.
The lawyer said that the investigator, despite her investigation turning up no concrete proof of the claims made by the second complainant, still turned around and charged his client because of the “pressure” she received from the executive branch of the Royal Bahamas Police Force.
“We live in the real world,” he said.
Mr Mangra said the prosecution was required to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt and, based on the evidence that came from the witness box, the jury “would come to the inescapable conclusion that ‘Sasha’ is not guilty.”
“In this case, there is absolutely no doubt that Sasha is not guilty based on the evidence that we heard,” he said, further emphasising that the evidence from a number of the prosecution’s own witnesses vindicated his client that she forced them into prostitution and withheld their passports.
In response to his submissions, Vinette Graham-Allen, director of public prosecutions, said it was the brave actions of one of the complainants going to the police, “notwithstanding the death threats made against her” that led to this matter being before the courts.
“There was no collusion, concoction or fabrication,” the DPP submitted, asking the jury to examine the evidence carefully and see for themselves what the truth was.
She also informed the jury to be mindful of the fact that the suggestions made to the witnesses during cross-examination were not coming from the lawyers themselves, but “clients give the lawyer instructions.”
“They come from the accused. The attorneys were not there. So how then if there’s a concoction or fabrication, can you put it to the virtual complainant that she gave the passport to the accused for safekeeping?” the DPP said.
Yesterday, Senior Justice Isaacs began his summation after 1pm and excused the jury to deliberate at 2:45pm.
They returned to the courtroom at 4:15pm and announced their verdicts on the six charges.