Eight people — two women and six men — who were being tried at the High Court in connection with the burglary and burning of a shop in Barrouallie in June 2018, were freed on Wednesday amidst allegations that police had beaten them to extract a “confession”.
Crown Counsel Richie Maitland, holding for Assistant Director of Public Prosecution, Karim Nelson, informed Justice Rickie Burnett at High Court No. 2, that the prosecution was withdrawing the charges.
Maitland said that the Crown had made the decision in light of certain information received by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution.
The prosecution is not obliged to offer any reason for withdrawing a charge.
Moeishia Patterson, one of the five defendants who were in court, started to cry immediately on hearing they were all free to go.
When she, as well as Corey Anderson, Denisha Browne, and Zianniah Smart excited the courtroom, they celebrated so loudly in the corridor that a police officer had to remind them that they were still in the precinct of the court.
Anderson, however, still have another matter before the court.
Last November, the 27-year-old labourer, of Barrouallie, was jointly charged with Delroy Harry, 18, of Ottley Hall that on Sept. 16, 2022, at Barrouallie, they entered the dwelling house of Julius Gabriel, of Barrouallie, as trespassers and stole EC$30,000 in cash, Gabriel’s property.
Julius Gloster, 53, another of the accused men who was freed of the charge on Wednesday, was not free to leave the courtroom.
He is serving an 18-year prison sentence handed down in March 2021 for wounding with intent, attempted robbery, possession of an unlicensed firearm and possession of a firearm with intent to commit an offence.
He committed those offences in his hometown, Barrouallie on Oct. 26, 2018.
Meanwhile, Kenley Gloster, Casper Anderson and Chrisbert Joseph arrived late for the hearing on Wednesday.
Some of the accused were facing charges of burglary while others were charged with burglary and arson.
The arson charge was that between June 23 and 24, 2018 at Barrouallie, they damaged Rawle Francis’ property by fire, resulting in EC$115,000 in damage.
The burglary charge was that they stole a weed eater, groceries and cosmetics valued at EC$7,000 and US$700, Francis’ property.
The charges were withdrawn before the completion of a voir dire, a hearing in which the judge would have decided whether evidence is admissible and should be heard by the jury.
In the extant case, the voir dire concerned “confessions” that prosecutors alleged police had obtained from the accused.
However, the defence argued that the “confessions” were obtained under oppressive conditions and should not be put before the jury.
A number of police officers were examined and cross examined during the voir dire and the Crown withdrew the charge before the hearing was complete.
“They withdrew without giving a specific reason, so it is assumed that they conceded our arguments that the statements were inadmissible and they had no other evidence against them,” a defence lawyer told iWitness News.
But while the defendants celebrated the withdrawal of the charges, the virtual complainant, a 67-year-old resident of Barrouallie, was left without answers about who burglarised his shop and set it afire, resulting in EC$115,000 in damage.
“I feel badly…” Francis told iWitness News on Thursday and outlined what he thought was some of the evidence in the matter.
“My stuff is still at the police station in town. My swiper (weed trimmer) and a lot of other stuff that are still there. They said when the case was finished that was the only time I could get them,” he further stated.
He was referring to the items that police had recovered during the investigation and had retained as evidence.
“They never explained how the case was going more than yesterday morning, they told me the case was thrown out,” Francis said.
He told iWitness News that a court officer had visited him when the trial was about to start and told him he would be told when to come to testify.
“I had to rebuild the shop. I had to take out everything I had in the bank to rebuild the shop. I rebuilt it and started it again,” he said and noted that two coolers and a freezer were destroyed in the blaze.
He said he would visit the police station on Monday to collect his items, which he said included a brand-new weed trimmer.
Francis said he could not say whether or not police had in fact beaten the accused.
He, however, said that police should not beat accused people, noting that this could result in members of the public not getting justice.
“If you have a case, no police should beat someone. They should know if they hit someone it could cause the case to get thrown out. If they did that, it is wrong and jeopardises the public; for us, the public, they jeopardise our case. I am sure they train the police not to do these things,” Francis told iWitness News.