By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE lead attorney for former PLP Senator Frank Smith has called on a judge to throw out the case against his client, as he branded the key witness in the matter a liar whose claims cannot be used as evidence that would safely lead to a conviction.
Keith Knight, QC, Smith’s lead attorney, said Barbara Hanna is “untruthful” and “manifestly unreliable” as a witness, and asserted that Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt, as the tribunal of both fact and law, cannot rely on a witness “who has a clear motive to lie.”
Mr Knight asserted that Mrs Hanna’s incentive to lie emanated from a meeting with Health Minister Dr Duane Sands, leading to her giving a statement to police incriminating Smith, to Dr Sands unilaterally approving a $1.9m contract for her cleaning company, to her testifying against Smith the same month the contract commenced.
“Some people lie for a reason,” Mr Knight said. “Some people just lie. It appears to me that she falls in the category of those who, on occasion, are untruthful for a reason. And on other occasions, she’s just untruthful for no discernible reason. But either category she falls in, she’s untruthful. And so then how do you rely on her?”
Conversely, Mr Knight said there is evidence to prove Smith is an “innocent man,” pointing to Mrs Hanna’s failed bid at securing a $2m contract to clean the Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre around the same time she was allegedly paying him $5,000 per month for him helping her secure a $500,000 cleaning contract.
To his client’s defence, Mr Knight asserted that a “dishonest person” would have taken advantage of that situation to “enrich himself” by ensuring Mrs Hanna got the $2m contract, just so he or she could tax her even more money on the back end because they would have known she’s a “willing participant.”
“Almost four times the amount (of the $500,000 cleaning contract), and yet, he did not do anything to help her to get that contract?” Mr Knight asked.
He asserted that based on Mrs Hanna’s evidence, it was chronologically impossible for Smith to have assisted her in getting a $500,000 annual contract with the PHA, as according to her, she first met with Smith in March 2016, months after the contract had already been issued as of January 2016.
And based on that submission, Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt questioned exactly when did Smith’s alleged “assistance” occur, and also when and how he allegedly extorted Mrs Hanna, as according to the defence, no evidence has been led to suggest a consequence if Mrs Hanna did not meet Smith’s demands.
However, Mr Knight further asserted that if the Crown relies on evidence, Mrs Hanna is actually an accomplice in the matter to some degree, given that, according to the prosecution, she paid $5,000 per month to Smith for his assistance in procuring a contract with the Public Hospitals Authority (PHA) to conclude the alleged bribery transaction.
And based on that, Mr Knight submitted, Dr Sands should have never approved the $1.9m contract, because according to the health minister, and if Mrs Hanna’s evidence is to be believed, she was an accomplice.
The submissions came during the first day of Smith’s criminal trial since it adjourned late last year. He is charged with one count of extortion, 12 counts of obtaining, one count of attempted extortion and one count of bribery.
It is alleged the former PHA chairman, between April 2016 and April 2017, demanded and obtained $5,000 per month from Mrs Hanna, knowing he was not lawfully authorised to do so.
He is also alleged to have attempted to extort another $5,000 from Mrs Hanna. And concerning the bribery charge, it is alleged that he solicited $5,000 a month from Mrs Hanna for helping her to get a PHA contract.
However, Mr Knight submitted yesterday that based on Mrs Hanna’s evidence, she met with Smith in March of 2016, after being referred by then Deputy Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis. By that time, PHA’s board had already passed a resolution to award Mrs Hanna’s company the contract, which occurred on December 23, 2015. And based on other evidence adduced during the trial, Smith’s power and influence in those discussions came to an end on that date.
As a result, Mr Knight asserted yesterday that Smith could not have assisted Mrs Hanna in getting that contract, and consequently, the bribery charge could not be made out. Similarly, Mr Knight submitted that his extortion charge could not hold up because there is no evidence to suggest that Smith demanded anything from Mrs Hanna, or specified any consequence she would suffer if she did not comply.
The defence is currently seeking to have Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt throw out the 15 charges against Smith.
But concerning Mrs Hanna, the virtual complainant in the matter, and upon whose claims the Crown’s case is dependent, Mr Knight asserted that whenever her testimony could be tested by the rigours of cross examination, she “came up short” as a credible witness.
Particularly, Mr Knight noted that when Mrs Hanna first took the witness stand, she declared that she felt as if she was being “used” to testify in the matter. At the time, she said while she could not say who was using her, she felt she was at a disadvantage by testifying in the trial. She also expressed her disdain for being involved in the matter by repeatedly saying “I don’t want to be here” while seated in the witness box.
Yesterday, Mr Knight noted that when Mrs Hanna made those statements, it “stunned” the entire court and caused many to look upon her sympathetically and think in their minds, “poor Barbara Hanna.” Mr Knight also noted that her statements at the time were not in response to a question; rather, he submitted that the woman was “bearing her soul” and “removing a burden.”
However, Mr Knight said on the last day she gave evidence, Mrs Hanna changed her position and stated that she wasn’t being used in the matter, and that such a “stark contradiction” has not been explained. Thus, he questioned what it was that led her to change her mind, “alter her feelings,” and undergo such a “transfiguration”.
In highlighting another instance, Mr Knight noted that the “simple question” put to her in cross-examination, “Do you know Edgar David Hanna?” yielded the response: “I don’t recall.” Mr Knight noted that at the time that question was posed, Mrs Hanna was seemingly frustrated from testifying. However, Mr Knight questioned how was it she could not recall the name of her spouse of 20 years.
Nonetheless, the Jamaican attorney noted that later on in the trial, Mrs Hanna said she could not ever forget Mr Hanna’s name.
“They (the Crown) have tendered a witness who contradicts herself, she lies, even on herself,” Mr Knight submitted. “…But there is a reason for lying on herself, the defence is saying.”
Mr Knight further asserted that the Crown has now been placed in a position where regardless of how the case is interpreted, there “ought to be a concession” by the Crown as “ministers of justice.”
“The lead prosecutor should rise and concede,” Mr Knight said. “That is what the practice calls for. And that is what I expect.”