Last Week’s News: A Statement from Jamaica’s Director of Public Prosecutions

Last month there was a glimmer of justice in Jamaica: the men responsible for the attempted murder of 7-month pregnant Jody-Ann Gray were sentenced to prison. Thankfully Ms. Gray and her child are alive and will hopefully have full lives. But amid the celebration for some justice for Ms. Gray (I qualify with “some” because though the assailants plead guilty to what looks a lot like premeditated attempted murder, they were only sentenced to 14 years in prison), I was taken aback by a statement about the case that was issued by Jamaica’s Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

Why did the DPP issue such a full statement? When I clicked a link to read about the sentences handed down I was surprised to see a long and full account of and the investigation into the attempted murder of Ms. Gray, instead of a short statement communicating pride and positivity about the successful outcome for Ms. Gray and her child and for justice in Jamaica. But no. The DPP’s statement was scattered, verbose, and contained discrepancies in the presentation of the facts. As I read, I couldn’t help but wonder that if this statement was at least partially indicative of how the DPP prepares and presents its cases then it’s no small wonder that Jamaica is having a little (<– that’s sarcasm) issue successfully bringing cases to trial and winning. I won’t belabor things but the statement bothers me because I know how important being detailed is to the legal profession. Entire sections of statutes fail to be effective because of a misplaced comma or because someone misreads the effect of a comma on a clause and its antecedent language…so to have the DPP state

In December of 2011 whilst pregnant she moved to a location in Portmore, St. Catherine to reside with a family member.

On January 29, 2012, after an outside broadcast for Kool 97 FM, Mr. Whyte transported Ms. Gray to her new residence in Portmore, St. Catherine.

On April 2, 2012, after seven months of not speaking, Mr. Whyte called Ms. Gray feigned concern and enquired about her well-being and her plans for the baby.

makes me wonder. What seven months of not speaking? If Mr. Whyte transported Ms. Gray home in January 2013 and asked after her health in April 2013 then they cannot have been out of communication for seven months. Yes it’s easy to simply brush this off as a minor discrepancy of dates but details like this matter when bringing a case to trial. It’s important to be accurate. And it’s important too, I think, to present the facts of a case in a straightforward way. All the fluff (adverbs and adjectives) get in the way…sometimes I think it even gives the impression of trying to distract the audience from some unpleasant fact. Like a magician twirling his hands to distract you as he pulls the rabbit from a place other than his hat. Yet for this case that was hardly necessary. And the DPP couldn’t even get things right in a statement at the successful conclusion to the case?

Later in the statement we learn that on April 4, 2012 (the date of the shooting)

The police consisting of Woman Cpl Debby Rhoden, S/Cpl Tyrone Harvey and others were on duty at about 10:15pm when they received a report of the incident via Police Control.

OK the shooting occurred at around 10:15 PM. So how is the following possible?

On the 4th April 2012 at about 10:00pm the investigating officer commenced investigations into the matter.

There is only one Investigating Officer identified in the statement. He is the same Investigating Officer who was on hand to receive the then-accused when they were brought to the police station after Ms. Gray, while en route to the hospital, identified the car transporting the person who shot her. Is the Officer skilled in time travel?

We also learn that after the police responded to the call to assist Ms. Gray they left the original crime scene unattended. Not until the (time traveling) Investigative Officer returns there to process the scene does there seem to be a police or other authority’s presence to ensure that evidence of the crime isn’t compromised. Suppose someone had removed the bullet from Ms. Gray’s car? Suppose doctors were unable to retrieve the bullet from Ms. Gray’s neck? Suppose Mr. Farr and Mr. X didn’t spill their guts because of attacks of conscience to not only firmly implicate Mr. Whyte, but also to tell the police where the gun had been thrown?

Jamaica's DPP, Paula Llewellyn (Image: The Jamaica Gleaner)

Jamaica’s DPP, Paula Llewellyn (Image: The Jamaica Gleaner)

Listen I know that there’s a general resource problem in Jamaica — here ambulances, police cars, crime scene investigators, forensic experts — but I can’t help but be bothered that the inadequacies are needlessly laid bare in this statement. I’m not suggesting that we shun the truth of the challenges we face but…why was the statement issued again? To show that the police acted speedily in their investigations? That’s good and I’m glad but that can be simply and succinctly stated. Even worse: the DPP knew that the plea was coming so they had ample time to prepare this full account and make it pristine. I am glad that Mr. Whyte and Mr. Farr plead guilty and have accepted the sentences. I don’t dare think of what may have happened had this case gone to trial.

Ok I can’t help myself: if this case had gone to trial…is this how the DPP would have presented its case, presenting small discrepancies in the facts for the defense to pick at and undermine the prosecution’s case and credibility? Why? Even distant observers of the Trayvon Martin trial will know just how important credibility is for a jury: Rachel Jeantel.

Instead of a statement to capstone the successful end to a high-profile trial for a gruesome crime, this DPP statement stands out in my mind as an example of an office that doesn’t seem to have it as together as it should. An office that surely doesn’t have things as together as it needs to. It adds to the collage forming in my mind of an inept office, one that fumbled the prosecution of the murder of Ian Lloyd (for which there was video evidence) and the prosecution of the Irwin Point rape case. And then, yesterday, July 23, a judge declines to allow witness statements to be read into evidence in a murder case against Adidja Palmer (a.k.a. Vybz Kartel). Ironically this is an instance of the system working: Can’t produce your witnesses? Well you can’t merely have their statements introduced into evidence without making every effort to locate the witnesses so that they may testify in open court and be cross-examined by the accused. That is what is supposed to happen. So the right thing happened only to further demonstrate that the DPP doesn’t have its act together.

Jamaicans’ confidence in their justice system is so tenuous when it does exist that it is especially important for the DPP — even in the face of politricking, resource challenges, and uncooperative witnesses — to ensure that it always, always, presents its cases and represents itself in the best way possible. Small discrepancies like what I’ve noted above shouldn’t make it into the public eye. Little things matter every minute of every day. Little things especially matter before a court when someone’s freedom is at stake and when you stand up to represent society, asking for a remedy for harm that has been inflicted upon it.

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

One Response to “Last Week’s News: A Statement from Jamaica’s Director of Public Prosecutions”
  1. Wow, I actually didn’t read the DPP’s statement. I had an overview and I wasn’t comfortable with the detailed expose’ so I didn’t delve into it. But you are so right. It could quite possibly have turned into a circus if they hadn’t pleaded guilty. It speaks volume of our entire system of investigation and prosecution.

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