By LAMECH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
A JURY was directed yesterday to acquit a man of a late-night murder in February 2014 when a judge found that the prosecution’s recognition evidence was “vague and inherently weak”.
Justice Vera Watkins’ directive to the 12-member jury stemmed from legal discussions held in their absence on the conclusion of the Crown’s case against 33-year-old Michelet Auguste for the shooting death of Charles Pandy at his home in Winders Terrace.
Prior to calling for the jury’s return to the courtroom, Justice Watkins informed Crown and defence counsel of her decision on the no-case submission made by Lessiah Rolle and highlighted the last paragraph of the 16-page document.
Justice Watkins noted that in this case, “the quality of the recognition evidence is not satisfactory. It is of a tenuous nature in that it is vague and inherently weak. Even if it is viewed by the jury as being honest, it has a base that is so slender that it is unreliable.”
Justice Watkins further noted that “the prosecution’s evidence, taken at it’s highest, is such that the jury upon being properly directed, could not convict on it.
Since there is no other evidence to support the correctness of the identification evidence of witness Alpha, the case will be withdrawn from the jury and the jury will be directed to return a verdict of not guilty on the one count of murder in the indictment.”
The face of the Mt Tabor Estates accused was obscured by an open hand placed on his chin when the jury’s (madam) foreman announced the unanimous not guilty verdict.
Auguste did, however, say “thank you” when Justice Watkins addressed him and said an order for his release would be sent to the Department of Correctional Services.
He had pleaded not guilty to the charge, which would have seen him facing 30 to 60 years imprisonment if convicted.
Prosecutors Raquel Whymms and Roger Thompson contended that the evidence of key witness Alpha was such that the jury could infer that based on the circumstances, Auguste was responsible for the death of Pandy.
On the evening of February 12, 2014, Pandy was sitting in his yard when he was approached by a man who pulled out a handgun and shot him several times in the chest. Pandy attempted to run into his neighbour’s yard for help but collapsed. The shooter ran away on foot.
The 36-year-old was taken to hospital by his family and friends in a private vehicle but was pronounced dead at 8.30pm.
At trial, the jury heard the testimonies of two relatives of Pandy and Alpha, whose identity was not revealed for their protection.
The mother of the deceased was taking a bath around 8pm when she heard gunshots. She went to the front of their home and saw neighbours gathered across the street. She went to the neighbour’s yard and saw her son, Charles, on the ground, gasping for breath and bleeding.
She and two others took him to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.
A nephew of Pandy was also at home and heard gunshots. When he went to the front door, he saw someone running after his uncle and firing shots. He ran across to the neighbour’s yard and saw his uncle laying on the floor with blood on him.
The third key witness, Alpha, for whom an anonymity order was put in place, testified to hearing loud gunshots. Seconds later Alpha heard footsteps running and heading south and ran to a window at the front of their building to see what was happening.
Alpha saw a male, dressed in a dark grey sweater and jeans, running. The witness claimed to have seen the face of the male for three to five seconds and recognised the persons known to them as “American”, having seen the person nearly everyday by a food store in Pinewood Gardens across from the church of a popular bishop.
The person she recognised as “American” was described as having big lips, dark skin, “twine up” hair and a “slang talk.”
The key witness identified “American” during an ID parade two weeks after the shooting incident and at trial, identified Auguste as “American.”
Recognition v identification
In the judge’s written ruling on the no-case submission, she acknowledged that “it may be so that there is sufficient evidence from prosecution witnesses from which the jury may reasonably conclude that on February 12, 2014, gunshots were fired in the area of Winder’s Terrace, Malcolm Allotments and that as a result of the gunshots Charles Pandy suffered harm.”
“Further, there may be sufficient evidence from which the jury can reasonably conclude that at the time when the shots were fired, the person firing the shots intended to kill Charles Pandy. There may also be sufficient evidence from which the jury may reasonably conclude that the person who fired the shots was the person who was seen by Alpha running in the area of the building where Alpha was located.”
“While there may be sufficiency of evidence as stated above, I am of the view that there is a difficulty with regard to the issue of the person who is responsible for the shooting,” the judge said, adding that “identification of the person who was observed by Alpha is crucial to the case for the prosecution”.
“Alpha” the court noted, “admitted during cross-examination that Alpha did not see the defendant shoot Charles Pandy. Nonetheless, the prosecution is of the view that the jury can reasonably infer that based on Alpha’s evidence of hearing gunshots and seeing the defendant running with a gun in his hand seconds later, then the defendant was the shooter.
“While I note the fact that Alpha attended an identification parade at CDU and identified the defendant as the person who was seen running, it should be noted that Alpha stated that the person that was wearing the number six was a person known to Alpha as ‘American’. This is not an identification of a stranger. No doubt, prior to attending an ID parade, Alpha had already informed the view that ‘American’ was the person who was seen running and as such Alpha identified the person known as American.”
Justice Watkins further went on to note the appearance of the Crown’s intent in presenting the case to the jury as one of recognition rather than one of identification of a stranger.
“What is in question is the quality of the lighting in the area at the time of the observations” the court highlighted.
“As I indicated earlier, Alpha’s evidence is very vague in this regard. Alpha failed to provide sufficient details about the lighting in the area at the time. It is not sufficient for Alpha to state that the lighting was ‘enough’. It is not sufficient for Alpha to state that there were no obstructions to Alpha’s view or that the person was close enough to see or that Alpha could see ‘perfectly clear’.”
“Alpha” the judge said, “must provide credible and reliable details on these issues that the jury would have the necessary facts to determine whether the lightning was such of a quality that Alpha could reasonably conclude that it was the defendant that Alpha saw.”