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The accused, Fitzgerald Phillips, centre, escorted to court by detective Corporals Hoyte, left, and David on Jan. 26, 2021 (iWN photo)
The accused, Fitzgerald Phillips, centre, escorted to court by detective Corporals Hoyte, left, and David on Jan. 26, 2021 (iWN photo)
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A Belmont man was on Friday freed of a manslaughter charge in connection with the Jan. 20, 2021 chopping death of fellow villager, Jason “Peka” Martin.

A nine-member jury deliberated for just over two hours before returning a not guilty verdict in the case at High Court No. 2, in Kingstown, freeing the defendant, Fitzgerald Phillips, 44.

Martin, a 47-year-old labourer, died after being chopped on the left foot during an altercation.

Defence counsel Jomo Thomas told iWitness News that Martin and Phillips had gotten into an altercation on Jan. 16, 2021.

The lawyer explained that Phillips and Leisha Martin, the niece of the deceased, had a business/romantic relationship.

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Their business involved the selling of agricultural produce at the roadside.

On Jan. 16, 2021, as Phillips came home, Leisha Martin told him that they were running out of ginger. Therefore, she sent him over to the house located in a family yard, where she lived upstairs and Martin downstairs.

Peka told Phillips he could not come into the yard and they got into a confrontation.

Thomas said that Peka had a knife and went up to Phillips and they started wrestling, resulting in Phillips receiving a cut to the hand.

Phillips and Peka continued to wrestle on the ground and at one point, he told Peka, “Look, I ain’t have anything with you. I’m gonna let you go.”

The lawyer said his client said this although he had overpowered Peka, who was still holding the knife.

“He had the knife pointing to his chest. And he said he could have forcefully pushed it into him but he didn’t do that. He told him he was going to let him go,” Thomas further said. 

Thomas said Peka was ambidextrous and as Phillips let him go, he switched the knife to the other hand and stabbed Phillips in the knee area.

“So, he now had a split finger and a stab on his foot,” the lawyer said.

Then, on Jan. 20, 2002, Phillips came home from work and left some plumrose with Leisha Martin, who was at the roadside selling, as they normally do.

Phillips asked Leisha Martin if she had cooked and she said yes. 

Phillips went to the house to get some food and when he was coming out of the house, he heard somebody in the yard saying, ‘Look, that man, say if he catch you, he going do you somethings’,” Thomas told iWitness News.

Phillips, therefore, armed himself with a cutlass, putting it in his waist, and was coming out.

When Phillips got onto the road, he saw Peka coming and told him, “Peka, you see how we cudda get weself in trouble.”

“And before we could finish saying that, Peka, who had a cutlass in a green sack, pulled a cutlass or made the motion to pull the cutlass out of the sack,” Thomas said.

He said that by this time, his client who had been about nine feet from Peka walked into him and they started wrestling.

“And when he walked in, Peka pelt a chop. He blocked it, and the tip of the cutlass gave him a laceration just above his eye.

“And when that happened, Peka tried to run. He (Phillips) held on to the back of his shirt. But in the motion, they were right next to a wall just two or three feet high. And both of them fell over the wall and ended up in a lady’s yard. And his cutlass which was in his waist dropped. And he took his cutlass and cut the man on his foot.”

Thomas said that his client argued self defence while the prosecution’s case was that it was a revenge killing.

“And we were able to persuade a jury that it was not. Basically, the witnesses for the prosecution — we found them to be lying, or at least were able to create doubt in the minds of the jury that they were not the best witnesses and they may not be telling the truth,” the lawyer said.

He said that Peka had “the kind of relationship with his niece, in which he did not want her to talk to anybody at all.

“It was her evidence that my uncle did not just have a problem with the deceased, he had a problem with anybody I dealt with,” the lawyer said.

“… In fact, she described the relationship that she had with her uncle as unsettling. So, I tried to get the jury to say, ‘Look, you can infer what you want. But I think the man was a very shady man in the least.”

He said that Shevorn Martin, Leisha Martin’s sister and another niece of the deceased, testified that she (Shevorn) had a very, very good relationship with the deceased.

“She said she asked the uncle what the issue was with her sister, but she’d never once spoken with her sister as to what the issues were.

“So, again, we tried to make out that it was strange that you would ask your uncle, but you would not ask your sister…” Thomas said.

“And we tried to point to some other things to show that she might not have been telling the truth when she gave evidence because she said that the defendant had said to her that he’s not tekking it, he’s going to chop up the man again because he don’t care if you go to jail, because he knows in jail he go get three square meals.”