Klansman trial taking long road home

WITH the Crown and the defence now resting in the Klansman Gang trial, which began exactly a year ago today, Chief Justice Bryan Sykes, the sole sitting judge, on Monday signalled that his summation would begin on November 1 but gave no indication as to when that will end.

The month-long break is one of many that has humbugged the trial which began on September 20 last year with 33 alleged members of the notorious St Catherine-based gang. Five were subsequently freed on the basis of insufficient evidence leaving 28 accused up to August 11 when Andre Smith, the sole accused in the matter who was out on bail, was shot and killed.

Addressing the 27 and their attorneys, as well as prosecutors, on Monday during the first sitting since the new court term commenced on Friday, the chief justice said he would begin his summation which will run “until we are finished”.

“All the submissions have been heard so on November 1, I will begin to tell you what I think of all of this,” he said mysteriously.

On Monday the last six defence attorneys made their closing arguments on behalf of their clients, underscoring points raised in their no-case submissions and urging the judge to find that the prosecution had failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. They reiterated their doubts about the credibility of the Crown’s two main witnesses, arguing that they had an interest to serve in turning against the alleged members of the criminal organisation and could not be trusted.

Attorney Alexander Shaw who represents three of the accused, namely Stephanie Cole Christie, the sole female defendant; Andre Golding; and Andre Smith (who was murdered), in his address argued that the evidence the Crown produced to peg his clients as members of the criminal organisation was weak.

On the case against Christie, Shaw said it was instructive that after nine months Christie, who was said to be a “top-tier member”, is only now indicted for being a part of a criminal organisation as none of the other counts she had been charged with on the 25-count indictment has stood.

“By Mrs Christie’s own account, Milord, she had no intention to commit any serious offence, promote, further or assist in any criminal activity. The absence of a substantive count [counts tending to show criminal activity] against Mrs Christie is indicative of the tenuous nature of the evidence against her,” Shaw contended.

“Therefore, if the evidence is so insufficient — so much so that the Crown cannot make out a count of even facilitating or planning, in essence, the conspiracy — to ask the court to find that this person is part of the criminal organisation is a departure from common sense and logics,” he stated further.

In referring to the recordings of telephone conversations captured by Witness Number One purportedly involving Christie and others Shaw said, “the recordings were just about the anti-social behaviour of the conversant and I’m submitting Milord should reject these bits of evidence as the prejudicial effects outweigh the probative value”.

“It was just some conversations that really and truly speak to the bad behaviour of the parties involved, and it’s not really within the context of this organisation. I therefore ask that you give due consideration to the account of Mrs Christie as she indicated that she was never a member of any criminal organisation, her actions did not speak, her words in that conversation were not an indication of her being a member of any criminal organisation,” the attorney maintained.

Justice Sykes, who at intervals engaged the attorney, pointed out among other things, “the Crown has never presented her as a gun-carrying, gun-shooting member of the organisation”.

“In respect of Mrs Cole Christie the Crown was not so much relying on her committing other counts; the Crown sought to establish her membership. It is said she was the one who was concerned about the laziness of the members of the organisation, and she exhorted them to be a bit more productive — and the Crown is also saying that in respect of count 25, the evidence showed that she was not a passive person but an active participant. The Crown in pointing to all the recordings is saying the cumulative effect of all of that, in their view, is sufficient to prove beyond reasonable doubt that she was a member of a criminal organisation,” the trial judge said.

Meanwhile Shaw, in referencing the Crown’s case against Golding who was charged on counts 2, 14 and 17 on the indictment, said in respect of count two, which charges him with being a member of the alleged criminal organisation, there was no evidence of communication between Golding and any of the witnesses or any other members of this alleged criminal organisation. Referring to the testimony of the witnesses alleging that Golding was the driver of the infamous “Duppy Truck”, which was supposedly only used for murders and shootings, Shaw maintained that his client did not have a licence and cannot drive. Furthermore, he said the witnesses contradicted each other in their accounts of how many “Duppy Trucks existed”.

The Crown, in opening its case, said the accused individuals which comprise the “Blackman faction” of the gang, under the supposed leadership of Andre “Blackman” Bryan, had various roles in which they acted as “killers, drivers, lookout men or watchmen, gunsmiths and foot soldiers”.

According to the Crown, the accused — between 2015 and 2019 — carried out a range of murders, conspiracies to murder, and extortion and arson throughout the parish. The accused are being tried under the Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organisations) (Amendment) Act, commonly called the anti-gang legislation, with several facing additional charges under the Firearms Act for crimes allegedly committed between 2015 and 2019. All the accused, when arraigned on September 20, 2021 at the start of the trial, pleaded “not guilty” to the charges against them. They are charged with offences ranging from being part of a criminal organisation, murder, conspiracy to murder, arson, illegal possession of firearm to illegal possession of ammunition.

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