A man who spent seven years behind bars awaiting the outcome of a murder charge that hung on the evidence of an anonymous witness, was freed this month, when Director of Public Prosecution Sejilla Mc Dowall withdrew the charge, three months into the trial, as the court was about to uphold a no case submission.
After the charge was withdrawn, the accused man, Danneke Billingy, a 35-year-old shoemaker, was simply told he was free to go.
Billingy lost seven years of his life, based on the testimony of an anonymous witness, known only as XY, who claimed that Billingy was the killer, who had disguised himself so well that only his chin was exposed.
Billingy was tried in connection with the death of Dennis Quintin, a 57-year-old shopkeeper, of New Montrose, who died at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital on Sept. 30, 2015, having been shot in his community the previous night.
The prosecution’s case was grounded on the fact that XY claimed that he saw Billingy in the area where the murder was committed, Jomo Thomas, the lead counsel in the defence team, told iWitness News outside High Court. No. 2, in Kingstown, on March 10, after his client was freed.
Thomas said XY’s evidence shifted throughout the proceedings, adding that in his statements to investigators, XY never mentioned seeing Billingy before the shooting.
“In the evidence before the court, he said he saw him (Billingy) at four o’clock, he saw him at six o’clock, and that he saw the man having an argument with the gentleman who was killed,” Thomas told iWitness News.
The lawyer noted that XY gave a statement as early as one day after Quintin died but “he never mentioned anything like that.
“So, they applied for anonymity for him. And he came and he says that. He also said that he saw Mr. Billingy, he recognised Mr. Billingy before and he recognised Mr. Billingy to be the man who had killed this gentleman.
“He claimed the person whom he saw, whom he perceived to be Mr. Billingy, was dressed in a black shoe, a black pants, a black shirt, a black mask, black shades. And the DPP brought this case against this man and fought it to the very end.”
Just hours after withdrawing the case, the DPP submitted to the court the ruling in another case as part of her efforts to persuade the court that Billingy should be made to defend himself and that the jury should determine his guilt or innocence.
On the day that the DPP withdrew the case, High Court judge Justice Angelica Teelucksingh, was scheduled to rule on a no case submission that the defence had indicated — even before the trial began — that it would make.
Thomas told iWitness News:
“In fact, because of the weakness of the evidence, we had said even at the beginning of the case, even before the case began, when they were doing the application for anonymity, we had felt that the evidence was so tenuous, that we had always channelled that we were going to bring a no case submission
“He spent seven years of his life, seven years of his life, only to be told ‘You’re free to go.’ And there’s no redress only to be told that he’s free to go. That cannot be right. That cannot be right.”
Thomas said the evidence against his client “was as thin and bare as thread” but the Crown persisted.
“And the point I made in the court is the point that I think needs to be reiterated: when it comes to the liberty and the life of criminal defendants, there’s no regard, particularly because they, in the main, come from the lower classes, from the working class from the poor, from the vulnerable.”
The case was a test piece for a law that allows witnesses to testify without their identity being disclosed.
“It was a horrible thing to bring as your test case. Horrible,” Thomas told iWitness News.
“There was no history of violence on the part of this man,” the lawyer said, adding that before the case, Billingy had never been accused of killing anyone.
He said that at one point, XY said he did not know Billingy.
“At one point, he called him a stranger; another time he said he knew him for a few years. A plethora of contradictions in the case, and they brought that case,” Thomas said, adding that the contradictions were known before the trial.
XY’s voice was disguised as part of the efforts to ensure his anonymity. However, iWitness News was reliably informed that during the trial he disclosed information that might have revealed his identity.
“That’s true … but we don’t want to dwell on that,” Thomas told iWitness News, adding, “I don’t even think that is important for the whole thing.”
He said that the judge “continued with the anonymity. So, all through the trial, even though the person had outed himself, we had to refer to him by his designation.”
After the DPP withdrew the charge, the judge directed the jury to return a formal verdict of not guilty.
The defence team also included Shirlan “Zita” Barnwell and Noel Bruce, while Alana Cumberbatch also appeared for the Crown.
Billingy was represented at the preliminary inquiry by Counsel Grant Connell.
The Crown and all involved should be made to provide adequate restitution to Billingy.
How in hell could that be right? Just so? “You’re free to go” and call that George? These people mad as arse…
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