St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN); Four men convicted on two counts of kidnapping in 2013, saw their convictions overturned by the Court of Appeal on Friday (June 16).
The appellants Clayton “Yellowman” Laws, Jumana Walters, and brothers Ali Percival and Jermaine Riley were convicted of the October 2011 kidnapping of a bank employee and his wife.
The couple was taken from their home, the wife held for ransom, and the husband released with instructions to take cash from the bank’s vault to pay the ransom.
Two days after the kidnapping, Police found Percival and Riley in the house with the abducted woman restrained in a bedroom.
All four went on trial without legal representation, were found guilty, and sentenced to concurrent terms of 25 years imprisonment.
The men appealed their convictions and sentences.
The matter was heard on Friday by Justices of Appeal Hon. David Baptiste, Hon. Louise Blenman, and Hon. Gertel Thom.
Laws was represented by Jason Hamilton, Riley by Hesketh Benjamin, Walters by Marsha Henderson, and Percival by Dr. Henry Browne QC and Marissa Hobson- Newman.
Dr Browne submitted that the trial judge failed to fairly advance Percival’s defense in his summation to the jury. He said a fatal error was made when the caution statements of co-defendants were admitted into evidence without the names of the others redacted, which was prejudicial to his client.
Dr Browne contended that the men were not given a fair trial.
Hamilton also argued against the trial judge’s instructions to the jury, claiming that at one instance the judge even misstated what Laws had said in the caution statement given to police.
Benjamin said the arguments advanced by Dr Browne also applied to his client.
Henderson contended that there was insufficient evidence tying Walters to the alleged kidnapping plot, therefore the judge ought to have withdrawn the matter at the end of the prosecution’s case, instead of putting it to the jury.
The Justices concurred, and upheld the appeal mounted by Walters, setting the man free immediately.
The case continued with the other three appellants.
At the end of submissions the Justices said they were of the view that serious errors were committed in the trial judge’s summation and “such errors place grave doubt on the safety of the convictions of the appellants with respect to whether they received a fair trial”.
The Justices quashed the convictions and sentences of the three remaining appellants, and ordered a retrial, saying it was of great public interest that they be retried since the evidence and prosecution in the case were not in question.
Laws, Percival and Riley were returned to Her Majesty’s Prison to await their new trial.