By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
A CONVICT sentenced to nearly 40 years in prison for fatally shooting a man at a convenience store in 2012 has had his appeal dismissed by the country's second highest appellate court.
Clarence Smith had contested his 38-year sentence on eight grounds of appeal, ranging from his concerns over a delayed adjournment of the trial, to issues over the admissibility of video surveillance footage into evidence.
However, in a ruling in late August, Court of Appeal Justices Dame Anita Allen, Jon Isaacs and Stella Crane-Scott, unanimously rejected all of Smith's submissions, consequently affirming the conviction and sentence in the process.
On May 18, 2015, Smith was convicted of the murder of Khanaochi Knowles before then Supreme Court Justice Roy Jones and a jury. He was sentenced to 38 years in prison on August 13, 2015, to take effect from the date of his conviction.
According to the evidence produced at the trial, Knowles was standing in front of a shop on Rock Crusher Road smoking a cigarette around 8.20pm when two armed men wearing hooded jackets ambushed him.
He was shot 16 times. As Knowles ran into the store and tried to shut the door behind him, his assailants pursued him.
There were no eyewitnesses to the shooting but the incident was captured on the store's security camera.
After viewing the surveillance footage, Knowles' girlfriend, Latavia Paul, and Sergeant 2586 Jamaal Evans, identified Smith and co-accused Thorne Duncan. Ms Paul picked out both men during separate identification parades.
According to the ruling, Smith denied the police's allegations of murder in a record of interview. He did not testify at trial, and the case put on his behalf through the cross-examination of witnesses was that the quality of the video was so poor it was impossible for any person to correctly identify anyone on it, whether they were familiar with the person identified or not.
Smith appealed his conviction by notice filed August 13, 2015, as amended on June 21, 2017. The appeal was heard on June 22 and 29 and July 3 of this year.
One of Smith's core submissions, which actually were two submissions intertwined, was that, coupled with the trial judge erring in law when he failed to direct the jury adequately on the issue of identification, the judge erred in law when he allowed the video surveillance recording to be admitted into evidence.
Regarding the latter, Smith questioned the admissibility of the surveillance tape recorded by the cameras at the convenience store where the incident allegedly happened, as well as the evidence of Ms Paul and officer Jamal Evans who after viewing the tape, allegedly identified Smith as one of the assailants who they saw enter the convenience store and shoot the deceased.
And regarding the issue of identification, the Court of Appeal judges noted that in the matter in question, two kinds of evidence existed: the identification by the two witnesses who viewed the videotape of the alleged crime, and the identification which the jury was asked to make for themselves from that video recording and the still photographs made by the police.
However, after referring to the relevant case law and other factors, Dame Anita noted that the trial judge "emphatically warned the jury of the special need for caution in relying on evidence alone," and that she is "satisfied that the jury were adequately, and properly directed."
She further said that it is "clear that the process of identification by video recording or photographic evidence is different from witness identification, and each call for a different form of direction to the jury, which the learned judge in this case skillfully combined."
Thus, she said that the ground had "no merit, and fails."
Another of Smith's submissions, according to the ruling, was that the trial judge erred in law when he adjourned the trial for a total of seven days without keeping the jury together and making proper provisions for preventing them from communicating with anyone on the subject of the trial.
According to the ruling, the reasons for the adjournment were said to be because a juror had an important appointment on a Wednesday, the judge was not available on a Thursday and Friday, and on the following Monday, one of the counsel involved in the trial was not available.
However, the Court of Appeal ruling stressed that the seven days Smith referred to actually comprised four business days, as well as a Saturday and a Sunday. Further, Dame Anita said that in order to succeed in overturning a conviction on the basis of a break in the trial, one would have to show that the break was inordinate; that there was prejudice to the appellant as a result, and that this "irregularity substantially affected the merits of his case."
Ultimately, Dame Anita said Smith's ground "must fail,” stating that she was not "in the least concerned that such a break in the case was an irregularity which resulted in the appellant having an unfair trial."
Other grounds of appeal Smith included the reasonableness of the verdict – that his conviction was unreasonable and not supported by the evidence, as well as the verdict being unsafe or unsatisfactory in light of the circumstances of the case.
However, Dame Anita wrote: "For my part, I have no reasonable doubt about the conviction of the appellant for murder, not even a lurking doubt about it. The jury saw and heard the witnesses as they gave evidence; the jury saw the incident as it unfolded on the videotape; were able to play it over if they needed to; and had clear directions as to the law to be applied.
"In the premises, and for all of the above reasons, I would dismiss the appeal, and affirm the conviction and sentence."