By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
A man has had his more than 40-year sentence for murdering someone he called a friend over five years ago quashed by the Court of Appeal.
The court set aside Deangelo Johnson’s 42-year sentence for murdering 19-year-old James Farrington in March of 2014.
No retrial was ordered as the “nature of the evidence” was “inadequate” as a result of which the case should have ended at the no-case submission stage, the court ruled.
At trial, the Crown’s case was that sometime between 7pm and 9pm on March 8, 2014, Farrington was riding a bicycle on Milton Street when Johnson was waiting for him near a shortcut on Milton Street armed with a handgun. When Farrington rode past him, Johnson ran after him and shot at him, hitting him.
Farrington consequently fell from his bicycle. Afterwards, Johnson ran through a shortcut in the direction of his home, the prosecution argued.
The principle eyewitness, Dayton Bethel, was in the area of the incident sometime between 8 or 9 o’clock and heard about nine or ten gunshots. He said he saw four men running through the Bargain City shortcut. Those men, he said, ran and disappeared into a yard where he lost sight of them.
Nonetheless, Mr Bethel said he was able to see the men for about 15 to 20 seconds at a distance of about 45 feet. He said there wasn’t really anything obstructing his view of the men and that there was light in the area from the nearby Bargain City and Our Lady’s Catholic Church.
Mr Bethel said he recognised two of the four men as people he knew all of his life, one of whom was Johnson and who had a black gun in his hand. Mr Bethel said that was the only gun he saw. He further stated that all four of the men were wearing black, and that the two men he was able to recognise were both wearing hoodies.
Mr Bethel later identified Johnson on an identification parade.
Meanwhile, Johnson gave sworn evidence and denied the offence. He said he was at home at the time of the incident waiting for his cousin to cut her birthday cake. He also said he told the police where he was at the investigate stage of the case and provided them with an alibi.
Johnson further asserted that he and Farrington were friends and that he was thus unable to fathom why Mr Bethel would lie on him.
Johnson called one witness, Phillipa Rolle, to testify in support of his alibi. She gave evidence that Johnson was inside of a house and when she was about to cut her birthday cake, gunshots were heard.
Nonetheless, Johnson was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 40 years in prison on June 27, 2016.
On appeal, Johnson’s attorney Roberto Reckley asserted the trial judge should have taken the case from the jury at the close of the Crown’s case as there was insufficient evidence of identification of his client.
Mr Reckley contended that taken at its highest, the Crown’s case was that his client was seen running with a gun in his hand after shots were heard. There was no identification linking Johnson to Farrington’s murder.
However, Crown attorney Racquel Whymms charged that the trial judge was in fact correct to send the case to the jury. Ms Whymms further asserted that there was sufficient evidence of identification, borne entirely out of Mr Bethel’s evidence.
However, the appellate judges found that the Crown’s assertions “do not address satisfactorily, the central issue of identification”.
Firstly, the appellate judges said no evidence was led from Mr Bethel on how recently he had seen Johnson, and for how long, beyond saying he knew him his whole life. Additionally, the appellate judges noted that Bethel’s identification of Johnson placed him in the area of the shooting only.
To that end, the appellate judges said there was no evidence to distinguish the men who were seen on Milton Street from the four men seen running through the shortcut on Deveaux Street. Thus, the judges said that evidence was “an invitation for the jury to speculate about who did the shooting, who did not and whether they were all in it together”.
Furthermore, the appellate judges noted that Mr Bethel said that the two persons he identified out of the four—one of whom was Johnson—“had on hoodies”. However, the judges said there was no clarification of Mr Bethel’s evidence that the men “had on hoodies”. Additionally, there was no suggestion that the hoodies were not covering the heads of the men he saw.
The appellate judges further noted that when asked about obstructions to his view of Johnson, he replied “not really”, and when asked to clarify what he meant, he spoke about the lighting and the time of day.
“For these reasons we are of the view that the quality of the identification evidence was inadequate and the case should have been withdrawn from the jury at the close of the prosecution’s case…,” the appellate judges said.
“(Johnson’s) appeal is allowed, and the conviction and sentence in the court below quashed. Having regard to the nature of the evidence in this matter we do not order a retrial.”