By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Court of Appeal has ordered two police officers to be retried over the death of a 20-year-old man while he was in their custody seven years ago.
Appellate President Sir Hartman Longley and Justices Stella Crane-Scott and Sir Michael Barnett ordered Akiel Smith and Carl Smith to stand trial for the second time concerning Aaron Rolle’s death in 2013.
The judges further ordered that the two constables be retried before another judge, as they found Acting Chief Justice Vera Watkins’ decision to direct a jury to acquit them in accession to their attorney’s no-case submission was “flawed”.
Wayne Munroe, QC, the attorney for both constables, confirmed yesterday evening that he will appeal the Court of Appeal’s decision to the Privy Council.
Nonetheless, in a ruling handed down yesterday morning, the appellate judges unanimously agreed that ACJ Watkins’ decision was “largely based on speculation and the drawing of inferences from competing theories of the case which were unsupported by the proved facts.”
“A jury is not allowed to speculate, neither is the judge,” Justice Crane-Scott said.
On February 9, 2013, both officers took Rolle, who had been arrested, into an interview room at the Southern Police Station at Quakoo Street, to interview him in connection with certain offenses, including the charge of escape. It emerged that Rolle, on a previous occasion, had escaped from that Police Station and was at large for quite some time.
According to the appellate judges, following the interview, and later that night, Rolle died from injuries which, based on the evidence, could only have been sustained while he was in the two officers’ custody.
When questioned by their supervisor Sergeant Bain--who had observed that the interview room was in “an unusual state of disarray with overturned desks and chairs”, about what had happened in the room, both officers claimed that Rolle tried to escape and they had to subdue him to prevent it from happening.
When Sgt. Bain entered the room, Rolle was handcuffed and the windows were open.
No eye witnesses gave evidence for the Crown. However, forensic pathologist Dr Caryn Sands said Rolle died as a result of a ruptured small intestine and abdominal hemorrhaging caused by blunt force trauma to the torso.
He also had dried abrasions on his chest consistent with cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
The constables were charged with manslaughter after jurors concluded during a 2013 Coroner’s Court inquest that Rolle’s death was a result of an “unlawful killing.”
Last year, however, ACJ Watkins directed the jury to acquit the two officers of the manslaughter charges, following a no case submission by Mr Munroe that no evidence was led to show that the officers committed a crime.
According to Sir Hartman, ACJ Watkins gave a “detailed judgment” reviewing the evidence and the relevant authorities in support of why she thought no reasonable jury properly directed would convict. He said she relied “principally” upon the issue of whether or not anyone else could have caused the injuries and whether the case for the prosecution had ruled out those possibilities.
However, Sir Hartman said the judge erred in her reasoning.
“In my judgment, there is no doubt on the evidence that the deceased could only have sustained the injuries from which he died while he was in the custody of the respondents on the 8th in the interview room,” Sir Hartman said. “Their explanation that he tried to escape and had to be subdued was at best self-serving. A reasonable jury properly directed may have taken the view that they did not believe or accept the self-serving explanation.
“The notion that because the deceased was in the custody of others and could have sustained the injuries on those occasions was entirely speculative. Therefore, the only question was whether a jury, properly directed, could have convicted them of the offense having regard to the injuries suffered by the deceased. They may have acquitted if they believed the explanation but if they rejected it they could properly have convicted.”
“In my judgment the judge usurped the function of the jury and fell into error as a matter of law by misapplying the authorities. I would, therefore, allow the appeal and set aside the decision of the learned judge and remit the matter to the Supreme Court for trial before another judge.”