By LAMECH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Court of Appeal has dismissed a woman's appeal against her manslaughter conviction in relation to her husband's killing.
The court was not convinced that a lawyer being given an extra day to prepare his client's defence would have increased the chances of a Supreme Court jury accepting the convict's claim that she killed her husband in self-defence.
Mikiko Black, 29, appeared in the appellate court in March for the substantive hearing of her appeal against a manslaughter conviction concerning the death of Leonardo Black, a Royal Bahamas Defence Force officer.
However, her lawyer Ramona Farquharson-Seymour was unable to convince Justices Dame Anita Allen, Jon Isaacs and Stella Crane-Scott to interfere with the verdict or quash the sentence her client received during the March 14 substantive appellate hearing.
The panel had said it would issue its reasons, in writing, for dismissing the appeal at a later date.
In the 71-page judgment published on Tuesday, Court of Appeal President Justice Dame Anita Allen explained what led the panel to unanimously dismiss the appeal.
"Defence counsel requested two clear days to prepare, and to be in the best position to present the appellant's case, however, the judge granted counsel one day to prepare. While the desire for expedition in the completion of criminal trials is a commendable aim, it must not be accomplished at the expense of compromising an accused person's right to a fair trial which encompasses the right to be given adequate time to prepare for the trial.
"In the present case, however, notwithstanding the brief time allotted for preparation, defence counsel marshalled the appellant's case as best he could in view of the formidable evidence arrayed against the appellant in the Crown's case. The provision of an extra day or even a longer period of time would not have provided the appellant with any greater advantage such as to lead to a more favourable verdict.
"Relative to the complaint that the trial judge erred in law by not upholding the appellant's no case submission, the evidence revealed that at the close of the prosecution's case, there was ample material on which the judge could ground her decision to call on the appellant to make a defence, namely, the wound track, the lapse of time before the appellant alerted persons about the incident, the presence of a knife in the deceased's hand and the demonstration given by the appellant as to how the shooting occurred. These were matters which were inconsistent with a spontaneous event. They suggested a scene which had been contrived to support a story of a struggle. The clear inference from the prosecution's evidence is that the appellant shot the deceased from an angle above and slightly behind him."
The panel also noted the appellant "complains that the judge erred in not discharging the jury when defence counsel indicated in open court and in the jury's presence that he intended to make a no case to answer submission".
"The statement of counsel without more in the jury's presence did not rise to the level of a material irregularity sufficient to affect the fairness of the trial or prejudice the appellant's case."
The other grounds concerning Black's right to give an unsworn statement and the judge's failure to give a good character direction were also dismissed.
"It is well established that the 'right' to give an unsworn statement from the dock does not arise until an accused is given their election. In the present case, the appellant's trial commenced on July 1, 2013 and her election was put to her on July 12, 2013, well after the right to give an unsworn statement had been abolished in 2011. The appellant, therefore, had no 'right' to give an unsworn statement from the dock."
The ruling continued: "As to a good character direction, the state of play in the appellant's case, to my mind, did raise the issue of her credibility. In the circumstances, therefore, there was a duty on the judge to direct the jury on the appellant's good character both in terms of credibility and propensity. However, the failure of the judge to direct the jury on good character does not inevitably lead to a successful appeal. In a case such as this, due to the sheer force of the evidence against the appellant a good character direction would not have affected the jury's verdict.
"As to the appellant's complaint on the lack of a Lucas direction, the appellant intimated that she had no knowledge of how to operate a shotgun. The Crown, however, called a rebuttal witness to demonstrate to the jury that the appellant was possessed of a certain familiarity with the shotgun. By doing so it belied her assertion to the contrary; and by so doing, brought home to the jury that the appellant was lying to them because she feared the truth and wanted to avoid the consequences of her act. Notwithstanding the failure of the judge to give a Lucas direction, a miscarriage of justice did not result due to the state of the prosecution's evidence."
Concerning the issue of the sentence that the appellant received, the appellate court saw nothing unreasonable with the penalty given.
"The average range of sentences for manslaughter are 18-25 years' imprisonment. Nevertheless, there may be cases where a sentencing judge goes below or above the range but it would be expected that cogent reasons for so doing would be provided by the judge. In this case, the judge gave her indication for the sentence she imposed and the appellant has disclosed no reason for this Court to interfere with the sentence so imposed, nor have we detected any error in principle by the Judge in arriving at the sentence she imposed," the court concluded.
The widow had denied the murder charge she initially faced and maintained that her actions on the night of April 19, 2010, were not intentional or due to provocation.
On that night at the couple's apartment on the corner of Boil Fish Drive and Adderley Terrace, off Faith Avenue, police found the body of the 27-year-old marine with gunshot wounds in the left side of his face.
The accused was arraigned four days later and her trial began on July 1, 2013.
Black testified that before April 19, 2010, she and her husband had been evicted from three apartments because of domestic disputes and fights between them.
Black said that on the day in question, she and her husband got into an argument that turned physical.
While in the living room, both Blacks reached for a weapon and she claimed she only recalled a shot going off and then her husband falling to the floor, the court was told.
On July 23, 2013, a jury found Black not guilty of murder, but guilty of manslaughter.
Six months later, in January 2014, Justice Vera Watkins ruled that she would not get the probation for which her then-lawyer Moses Bain had asked.
Instead, a custodial sentence of 14 years was considered appropriate in view of the fact that she had expressed no remorse or sympathy.
Anthony Delaney and Destiny McKinney appeared for the Crown in this appeal.
The full judgment was published on the appellate court's website.