By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Court of Appeal has dismissed a convict's attempts at challenging a Supreme Court jury imposed conviction for murdering a man during a failed attempt to rob him at gunpoint of his car six years ago.
Appellate President Sir Hartman Longley and fellow Justices Jon Isaacs and Sir Michael Barnett, dismissed Errol Knowles' appeal of his conviction for murdering Heuton Lloyd Jr after trying to rob him of his Honda Accord.
Knowles had tried to appeal his conviction on the basis the trial judge had put undue pressure on the jury to return a unanimous guilty verdict against him on the murder charge.
However, the appellate judges found the trial judge's actions were "no more than an attempt to act responsibly given the situation that had arisen as a result of a clear misunderstanding of the instructions given to the jury".
And in any event, the appellate judges said Knowles' application to appeal his conviction was out of time, having been filed over a year late.
Knowles' victim was seated in his red Honda Accord around 2am on Key West Street when Knowles and another individual, Rashad McPhee, tried to rob him at gunpoint.
Lloyd got out of the car, but reached for his waist, causing Knowles to shoot him. McPhee said Lloyd ran away, but Knowles ran after him, shooting him five more times in the process.
McPhee said a few days after the murder Knowles warned he would kill him if he told anyone about the incident.
On February 15, 2016, following a trial before Justice Indra Charles, Knowles was convicted of murder, armed robbery and attempted armed robbery. On October 21, 2016, he was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment for armed robbery and ten years for attempted armed robbery, with both sentences to run concurrently.
The sentences were reduced to give credit for the time Knowles had previously spent on remand, resulting in him having to serve eight years and three months from the date of sentencing.
Concerning the murder conviction, Knowles was sentenced "to be detained during the Court's pleasure with his detention being reviewed after 20 years".
McPhee, meanwhile was convicted, 11-1, of murder. They also convicted him by the same count of the attempted armed robbery.
Knowles subsequently appealed Justice Charles' decision, but did so over a year later. The reason he gave for the delay was that he was confused about the procedure and time frame to appeal.
However, the appellate judges said his explanation was "unacceptable", and found that it could not account for the "substantial" and "inordinate" delay in making the application.
Concerning his intended appeal, Knowles contended that a "material irregularity" occurred during the trial when Justice Charles put "pressure" on the jury to return a unanimous guilty verdict on the charge of murder.
According to the ruling, during her summation, Justice Charles told the jury that in order to convict Knowles of murder they had to return a unanimous verdict, but to acquit him of the charge a majority verdict would suffice.
When the jury returned, and after being asked by the clerk whether they had reached a verdict, they said the found Knowles guilty of murder by a count of 11-1. Incidentally, the jury returned a verdict by the same tally against Knowles' co-accused on the same charge.
Realising that the jury had not complied with her instructions, and may have been mistaken, Justice Charles explained to the jurors that such a verdict was not acceptable on the murder charge and asked them if they wanted more time to deliberate. Justice Charles also told them they could reach any verdict, guilty or not guilty.
The foreman agreed even though she initially indicated that the jury understood the original instructions from the judge.
The jury left to deliberate further and when they returned, delivered a unanimous guilty verdict on Knowles' murder charge.
Knowles' attorney Ryzsard Humes thus submitted that Justice Charles' reminding the jury of her earlier instruction and telling them to further deliberate on the matter had the effect of reprimanding them.
However, the appellate judges disagreed, stating that given the circumstances, it was in "everyone's interest and certainly in the interest of justice" that the jury be told to give "further consideration to the issue".
Conversely, the appellate judges said the question was whether Justice Charles acted properly in doing so or did she put undue pressure on the jurors to return a particular verdict.
The appellate judges said in similar situations, the judge may include a "Watson direction" to remove any "hint of pressure". However, the judges said such a direction was not necessary at that stage of the trial as there was no impasse. Rather, the appellate judges said the jurors mistakenly thought they had reached proper guilty verdicts.
The appellate judges further noted that while Justice Charles did not give a full Watson direction to the jurors, in telling them that they could reach any verdict and that it in effect was a matter for them, she was "making clear" the verdict was a matter for the jury and no pressure was being put on them to reach a particular verdict.
"This time the jury clearly got it right and indicated that they understood their instructions," the appellate judges said. "They retired and deliberated for at least another hour before returning with the unanimous verdict of guilty of murder in respect of the intended appellant.
"Significantly, however, the jury remained deadlocked, 11-1, on the murder charge against the intended appellant's co-accused. This demonstrated that they understood the instructions and notwithstanding the extra time for deliberation they remained deadlocked on the same count as against the co-accused.
"Was there a material irregularity? We did not think so.
The appellate judges added: "…In the circumstances, the intended appellant's conviction and sentence (as there was no appeal against sentence) were affirmed".