The trial of the two men charged in connection with a “fake” COVID-19 vaccination certificate hit a snag on Day 1, with the key witness failing to properly identify an important document and the prosecution unable to produce the original.
The trial of Jeffton Lewis, a 30-year-old clerk, of Diamond, and Gabriel Hutchins, 51, a chef, of Harmony Hall, began at the Calliaqua Magistrate’s Court, on Tuesday, with Gail-ann Pierre, the key witness, as the second person to take the stand.
The duo are charged that between Jan. 1 and July 10, 2021, at Stubbs, they made a false instrument, namely a certificate of COVID-19 vaccination in the name of Gabriel T. Hutchins with the intention that Gabriel Hutchins would use it to induce Gail-ann Pierre, an employee of the Mustique Company, to accept it as genuine and by reason of so accepting it, to do some act or not to do some act to her own or any other person’s prejudice.
Pierre took the stand at noon and was affirmed.
Corporal of Police Shamrock Pierre is the prosecutor.
In her evidence, Ms Pierre said she has been employed by Mustique Company for about two years as aticketing agent/cargo assistant, responsible for selling air or ferry tickets to passengers.
She said she is familiar with Hutchins as he would purchase tickets to travel to Mustique.
At the time of the alleged crime, Ms Pierre used to sell tickets on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the Mustique’s ferry having limited its schedule because of COVID-19 pandemic.
A lot of procedures were implemented because of the pandemic, including the security in Mustique sending to her the manifest of the persons who would travel on the boat.
The list would include the passenger’s name, address, and phone number. The area for their COVID-19 vaccination status would be blank.
“They would bring their vaccination cards and I would see if they are vaccinated or not. So if John Doe comes to me, I will have the manifest, I will check to see if his name is on the list. I would ask about status and he would show his card and I would fill in the address, phone number and the week on the status,” Ms Pierre testified.
“If during that period John Doe wanted to travel to Mustique but does not have a vaccinated card, he is supposed to call security and then security would speak with that person and would get back to me regarding if to allow them to travel to Mustique.”
She said that ticketing staff operated between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.
On May 28, 2021, sometime between those hours, “the customer had come, Gabriel Hutchins. His name was on the manifest. I had checked to see where he was going, which was Ocean Breeze in Mustique…
“I asked him if he was vaccinated or not, he stated ‘yes’,” Ms Pierre said. “And then I asked him to show me his vaccination card, which he did. It was a green vaccination card. It has on his name, ‘Gabriel Hutchins’ and his address as ‘Bequia’. I did not write any phone number, if he had a phone number.
“After I wrote up the information, I transferred that information onto a COVID test form in which the passenger would go to do their swab. The passenger would come back down and once negative, they would issue their tickets and they have to be on-board for 1:30 p.m.”
At this point, the prosecutor said, “Having been shown that vaccination card from the defendant, you had any reason to believe that was not genuine?”
Defence counsel Grant Connell objected and the magistrate, Zoila Ellis-Browne agreed with the lawyer that the prosecutor had asked a leading question.
The prosecutor rephrased the questions and the witness told the court that the vaccination card “looked accurate to me. It looked genuine. I have seen vaccination cards before, they have on a stamp”.
Ms Pierre said she saw the card again later that day when the police showed it to her and had a conversation with her.
“The witness told the court that the police did not ask her to do anything to the card and that she would be able to recognise it again as “it has on his name, ‘Bequia’ and it was a green card”.
The prosecutor, however, told the witness that if she were given cards with the same name and address, how she would be able to distinguish the one that Hutchins allegedly gave to her.
“Well, all the cards won’t have on the same name,” the witness replied.
“How would you know which one the police showed you?” Mr. Pierre asked.
“Asked and answered,” Connell said, an objection that the court upheld.
The prosecutor moved on and the witness told the court that she would give the manifest to security, who would attach it to an email and send it to someone else in the company.
The prosecutor asked the witness if she had seen the manifest anytime after that day.
“It would be on email,” Ms Pierre said, but went on to tell the court that she would keep the physical list.
“If you have to see it again, would be able to recognise it?” the prosecutor asked.
“I would. I wrote on it. The number of souls; vaccinated or not,” the witness said.
“That is what you do daily, correct? We are talking about the specific list on that day,” Mr. Pierre said.
“Asked and answered,” Connell said in objection but was overruled by the court.
“If you show me the list, I can tell you,” Ms Pierre responded.
“But I can show you a list from yesterday,” the prosecutor said.
“No, I would know the list I wrote on. Lists would have different names,” the witness responded.
The prosecutor made an application to show the list to the witness.
Connell objected, saying that the document that the prosecutor showed him “is at variance with the evidence.
“It appears from what I have in front me, the document, from the evidence she gave is not what he (the prosecutor) has.”
The lawyer further said that the document shown to him in court was not the same as the one disclosed to him, in keeping with the order of the court.
The prosecutor argued that the document that he was intending to show the witnesses was in keeping with what the witness had said.
“It a multi-page document, with pages number 1 to whatever,” Mr. Pierre said, adding that there is signature on the disclosure form but he was not sure it was the counsel himself who had signed.
The magistrate said she was assuming no malice intended by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution.
Connell countered that while he understood what the DPP’s Office was trying to do they erred in doing so.
“However, looking at the prosecution’s document, it is at variance with what the witness said,” Connell said.
However, the prosecutor noted that the witness had said that she had written on the form.
Connell then told the court that the document that the prosecutor was proposing to show to the witness did not even state what the witness said it did.
“It’s not even an original,” the lawyer said.
Playing ‘with the hand I have been given’
The magistrate asked the prosecutor if he was going to submit an original document.
The prosecutor responded that he could “only play with the hand I have been given”.
“That’s your problem, not his,” the magistrate responded and asked the prosecutor to respond to Connell’s objection that the document is at variance.
Mr. Pierre said he had responded by referring to what the witness had said, namely that she would receive the list.
The magistrate responded:
“You are submitting a seven-page document. Seven pages of script, even in my limited knowledge of what you have, is at variance of what she said.”
Pierre asked the court to allow him to ask the witness some follow-up questions.
“And, also, you need to explain where the original is. The witness will have to explain that. That is a flaw,” the magistrate said.
The magistrate then adjourned the hearing, telling the prosecutor:
“You will address this. We will come back. Given the number of witnesses, we could not have completed it. We will come back and deal with this matter. We may have to have several sittings, hopefully not.”
The matter was adjourned to April 4.
The trial opened with the testimony of Inga Mason who detailed the process of administering COVID-19 vaccine at Stubbs Polyclinic.
She told the court she was familiar with the stamp of the Stubbs Polyclinic and could identify it.
Mason was shown a card and she pointed out the stamp.
She said that to the best of her knowledge Lewis was not responsible for issuing COVID-19 cards.
The defence did not cross examine the witness.