For the second time in 14 months, two men accused of the shooting death of 10-month old Mozari Lee walked out of a courtroom as free men after the prosecution’s case fell in shambles.
Martin “Jahson” James, 40, and Recardo “Shrek” McFee, 31, both of Villa, were acquitted of the murder of the baby as the 12-member jury returned a formal “not guilty” verdict as directed by Justice Brian Cottle at the High Court in Kingstown on Tuesday.
The judge’s direction came as acting Director of Public Prosecutions Sejilla McDowall said the prosecution was offering no further evidence in the matter after their “key witness”, Monty Hillocks, gave evidence that was strikingly opposite to what he told police in a statement hours after the Oct. 7, 2016 shooting incident at Glen that left the baby dead.
“I told them what I heard. I didn’t see…. Told them that I saw Martin and Shrek, which was a lie,” Hillocks told the High Court as he was being examined by the acting DPP on what he initially told police in a statement he signed as true and correct.
The incident in which the baby was shot and killed took place at the home of the child’s parents, Shelly-Ann Durham and Mozart Lee, where Hillocks had taken his motor vehicle to have a sound system installed.
Hillocks explained that Lee, known to him as “Pargie”, is a technician and he has his workshop at his home.
Hillocks said that while he was assisting the technician to install the sound system, someone came from the back of the house and started firing shots.
“I ran. Pargie got shot along with the baby mother and the child,” Hillocks told the court.
Hillocks told the court that when the shooting started he was at the back of his vehicle, which was parked close to the road and his back was turned to the house. He said he looked around when he heard the gunshots and he ran to the road and down the hill.
When asked by McDowall how many persons were shooting, he replied: “One, to my knowledge.”
Asked if he did not say previously that he saw someone, Hillocks replied: “No, I didn’t see anyone. I saw a shadow.”
Hillocks initially claimed that he was the target in the shooting incident but he was not shot. In his statement to police, he had accused James and McFee of the shooting. He admitted that he gave the statement voluntarily.
When asked to identify the police officer who took his statement, Hillocks said he could not recall the name.
Hillocks told the police in his statement that he saw James and McFee. When asked why he gave the statement to police, he said, “Because I feared for my life”.
“I have no clue of who wanted to do me anything,” he told the court.
Hillocks said that at the time he gave the statement to police he and James were friends. He said he knew James for nine years then.
Asked if there was any disagreement between him and McFee, he replied: “Never spoke to Shrek before… Never was threatened from either.”
Asked why, according to him, he lied to the police in his statement, Hillocks replied: “Because I could have died… After the baby died, I said somebody has to pay. And, if is them is them.”
Hillocks told the court that he told police James and McFee were the ones involved in the shooting because they were from the area and people were saying it was them.
Asked if the statement was read over to him, Hillocks said he could not recall. He, however, said that he signed that it was true and correct.
At that point, James’ lawyer, Grant Connell, rose in objection, saying that the acting DPP was leading her witness.
However, the acting DPP told him to “sit down”.
“My Lord, I know it is my learned friend’s witness but she seems to be leading the witness,” Connell said to Justice Cottle.
“Can you sit down!” McDowall told Connell even before the judge could entertain the objection.
Connell calmly protested to the judge.
“My Lord, I must ‘sit down’?” Connell questioned. “I must ‘sit down!'” he said.
“I must sit down?” he again asked, as he gently took his seat.
“All right,” Justice Cottle said firmly. “I will say this once. I don’t want to have to say it again. I don’t want any conversation across the bar table.”
Justice Cottle also said that if there was anything to be said it must be said to him.
Hillocks also told the court that he prepared another document, an affidavit, which stated that he had lied to the police in his statement. He said the document was prepared on April 11, 2017. He also told the court he did not show up at the Serious Offences Court to testify in the preliminary inquiry because he thought that once he had told the police he had lied they would not call him to testify and the matter would be thrown out of court.
McDowall made an application to the judge to treat Hillocks as a hostile witness. After she was granted permission, she then cross-examined him on the affidavit and the statement to police.
“What I said about the shooting is a lie… The statement is a lie,” Hillocks told the court emphatically, as the acting DPP asked him repeatedly if he was saying that parts of the statement were true and which parts were true.
Connell and Israel Bruce, the other defence lawyer, declined to cross-examine Hillocks.
The acting prosecutor then told the court that the prosecution was offering no further evidence in the matter.
The judge directed the jury to return a formal verdict of not guilty, which they did.
James and McFee were acquitted of the murder charge as well as of charges of attempting to murder Hillocks and unlawfully and maliciously wounding Lee and Durham.
The two initially walked free on April 25, 2017, when Chief Magistrate Rechanne Browne-Matthias discharged them after she found during the preliminary inquiry that there was not enough evidence to send the matter on for trial before a judge and jury.
She had upheld a no-case submission by the defence counsels.
Hillocks, the prosecution’s key witness, did not show up to give evidence. And an application made under the Witness Special Measures Act for him to testify via video link was not granted then.
Months later, the prosecution applied to the High Court and obtained a voluntary bill of indictment. The two were re-arrested and indicted for murder. That meant they did not have to go through a preliminary inquiry but went straight to trial before a judge and jury.