By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
A MAN sentenced jailed for robbing a bus driver as well as up to 30 of his passengers with a gun almost six years ago had his legal bid to contest his sentence dismissed by the Court of Appeal.
Former Court of Appeal President Dame Anita Allen, along with fellow Justices Jon Isaacs and Roy Jones, dismissed Javon Roberts' appeal concerning the armed robbery of Vance Noel and others on his 15A bus in February of 2012.
However, the appellate judges allowed Roberts' appeal against his conviction for possession of an imitation firearm with intent to resist lawful arrest, after finding it was "improper" to marry that charge to the armed robbery charge.
According to the ruling, sometime between noon and 2pm on February 15, 2012, Roberts caught a 15A bus, driven by Mr Noel, on Baillou Hill Road near an Island Luck location. When the bus got in the area of the old lodge hall, now the Blue Waters Restaurant across the street from the CR Walker High School, Roberts shouted for the bus to stop.
When Mr Noel stopped the bus, Roberts pulled out a gun, put it to the bus driver's head and robbed him of money and cell phones. The COA ruling said Mr Noel recognised the gunman as someone he knew for some eight years as "Little Hopper" who often rode in his bus.
After Roberts robbed Mr Noel, he robbed other passengers - between 13 to 30 people. Jennifer Bowe was the last person he robbed, according to the ruling. He put the gun to her forehead and ordered her to give him her phone and money.
Roberts then escaped on to Baillou Hill Road.
He was apprehended by police the following day after two police officers on mobile patrol in an unmarked police vehicle observed Roberts playing dominos in a vacant yard with a group of men in the area of West Street and Cambridge Lane.
Roberts fled from the officers when they spotted him, heading west on to Wilkinson Street and it was alleged that while being chased by the officers, he pulled out a black firearm and pointed it in their direction. In fear for their lives, the two officers fired their police service revolvers.
Roberts subsequently dropped the gun along with a cell phone and continued running. He was later captured off West Street by another officer with the assistance of several other police units.
According to the ruling, Mr Noel attended an ID parade on February 18 and identified Roberts as the man who robbed him and the passengers on his bus three days prior. The COA ruling said there was no officer who spoke to Ms Bowe attending an identification parade, but she maintained she had done so.
The COA ruling further noted Ms Bowe's claims of attending an ID parade were not challenged by Roberts during the trial; the only allegation Roberts made was that "she had been prompted by the police to pick him out".
After electing to do so, Roberts gave sworn testimony and claimed that on February 15, 2012, sometime around noon, he was in the area of Prince Charles and Robinson Roads. He was wearing an ankle monitoring bracelet on that date. He said he did not catch Mr Noel's bus, and neither did he rob Mr Noel or Ms Bowe on the date in question.
Roberts did confirm that at 12.38pm he was on Baillou Hill Road heading downtown, travelling in a car. However, he said he turned around because of a road block and he went to Hospital Lane.
Roberts further testified that on February 16 officers Coakley and Smith chased him, saying he pulled a weapon from his waist and dropped it, but never pointed it at the officers.
During a record of interview conducted by Corporal 796 Francis, Roberts denied knowledge of the armed robbery, but admitted to being in possession of an imitation firearm. The ruling said Roberts also admitted he was also known as "Little Hopper".
According to the ruling, Roberts was fitted with an ankle monitoring device prior to the robbery as a bail condition in an unrelated case that enabled the company ICS to track his location and movements, which it did on the date in question.
And on that date, Roberts was tracked traveling on Baillou Hill Road in the area of where the robbery occurred at 12.38pm.
On July 21, 2015, Roberts was convicted on two counts of armed robbery and one count of possession of an imitation firearm with intent to resist lawful arrest. On September 17, 2015, he was sentenced to 15 years on each armed robbery count and 10 years on the firearm charge.
Roberts filed an appeal form on September 30, 2015 that contained six grounds of appeal. However, on January 23, 2017 he was permitted to rely on new grounds, which included, but were not limited to, that a "serious material irregularity" occurred during the trial and "had greatly reduced the fair trial of the appellant" and that the "joinder of the count for possession of an imitation firearm while resisting arrest was so prejudicial that it has resulted in the fair trial of the appellant being violated".
All but one of Roberts' grounds of appeal were dismissed and/or disregarded, namely the one concerning the imitation firearm. Roberts had taken issue with the Crown joining the firearm related charges arising from events that occurred the day after the incident to the armed robbery charges.
He charged that by including those charges in the indictment, the minds of the jury were "prejudiced" against him because those counts "tended to connect him to the armed robbery in circumstances where there was no such connection".
The COA ruling noted that during trial neither Mr Noel nor Ms Bowe provided a description of the "gun" Roberts used to rob them. Neither was there any evidence that suggested the imitation firearm secured by police on February 16, 2015 was connected in any way to the armed robbery the day before.
Additionally, the ruling said the armed robbery offences occurred on Baillou Hill Road whereas the imitation firearm related offence allegedly occurred at a different location and on a different date. And neither was there anything "to suggest that the offences were part of 'a series of offences of the same or a similar character.'"
The appellate judges thus found that the relation of the armed robbery charges and the firearm charge was "improper" and the consequent conviction for the firearm charge "must be quashed and the sentence set aside".
Further, the appellate judges noted that in the absence of any real connection between the firearm count and armed robbery counts, they are "satisfied" there was a "great likelihood that the jury was improperly influenced by the evidence of an unrelated arrest" which they noted was "probative of nothing and was irrelevant".
Nonetheless, the appellate judges said the combination of both Mr Noel and Ms Bowe's identification of Roberts as the robber, as well as the report generated from the ankle bracelet "provides a cogent and compelling case against the appellant".
The appellate judges said this led them to the "sure conclusion that had the armed robbery counts been tried separately the jury would inevitably have convicted the appellant of the offences".
"There was an error in the joinder of the charges which ought to have led the judge to discharge the jury due to the degree of prejudice the appellant may have experienced," the ruling said. "Nevertheless, we are satisfied that this is a proper case in which to invoke the proviso to section 13 as no miscarriage of justice has actually occurred; and we do so.
"Thus, the appeal against the convictions for armed robbery is dismissed. We affirm the convictions and the sentences imposed by the judge on those counts. We allow the appeal in respect to the firearm count, quash the conviction therefore and set the sentence aside."