Vybz Kartel’s murder conviction overturned

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Jamaican dancehall artist Vybz Kartel. – Photo courtesy Fader

JAMAICAN dancehall artist Vybz Kartel’s conviction for murder has been overturned.

Kartel, whose real name is Adidja Palmer, was convicted by a majority verdict in 2014 and sentenced to life for the murder of Clive “Lizard” Williams on August 14, 2011.

Three others – Shawn Campbell, Kahira Jones and Andre St John – were also convicted for the murder while a fifth man was acquitted.

On March 14, they successfully appealed their convictions. In a ruling, which was also delivered live by the Privy Council law lords, the UK court, Jamaica’s highest appellate court, ruled that the convictions of the four should be quashed on the ground of juror misconduct.

Jamaica’s Court of Appeal will now have to decide if to order a retrial. News reports out of Jamaica said Palmer and the others will remain incarcerated until the appellate court decides if they should face a new trial.

The veteran attorney said there are several factors why the men should not be tried again.

“These relate to how long the persons have been in custody, the length of the trial and the cost to the defendants to find new lawyers,” Samuels explained.

He also pointed to what he described as pretrial publicity, should a new trial be ordered, and adverse publicity in the public domain about the case.

“Those are the main factors against a retrial,” Samuels stated.

Jamaican attorney Bert Samuels, who was part of the men’s legal team, was reported at a press conference as saying there should not be a retrial.

He said several factors weighed against a new trial. These included the time the four have been in custody, the length of the trial and the costs to hire new attorneys.

He also cited pretrial and adverse publicity.

The trial at the High Court in 2014 lasted 64 days and was said to be the longest in Jamaica’s history.

In April 2020, the Jamaica Court Of Appeal upheld their convictions but reduced their parole eligibility by two and a half years each.

Prosecutors had relied on cellphone records and testimony from Lamar “Wee” Chow, the sole eyewitness, who said that Lizard was killed at Palmer’s home in Havendale, St Andrew, in August 2011.

At their appeal to the Privy Council, the men’s lawyers argued that the cellphone evidence was improperly obtained and that the jury was tainted after one juror allegedly tried to bribe other jurors to acquit the four.

They contended the trial judge failed to properly enquire into the allegations of juror misconduct and also sent the jury to retire to consider their verdict late in the evening, putting undue pressure on them to reach a verdict.

On Thursday, the Privy Council judges – Lord Reed, Lord Lloyd-Jones, Lord Briggs, Lord Burrows, and Lady Simler – were unanimous in deciding that the appeal should be allowed and that the convictions were unsafe and should be quashed.

While expressing “considerable sympathy with the dilemma faced by the trial judge,” after the allegations of bribery, they said he should have discharged the jury.

The Privy Council said a direction to the jury was inadequate to save the situation. The trial judge was also faulted for allowing the alleged corrupt juror – who was later charged and convicted for attempting to pervert the course of justice – to continue serving on the jury panel, which, by that time, had been reduced to 11 members because a juror had been previously discharged almost eight weeks into the trial.

In Jamaica, the Jury Act requires at least 11 jurors for a properly constituted jury in a murder trial.

The Law Lords said while they were “mindful of the very serious consequences which may flow from having to discharge a jury shortly before the end of a long and complex criminal trial,” and in the absence of legislation in Jamaica to allow a judge to discharge a jury and continue the trial by judge alone, the judge had no alternative but to discharge the jury and end the trial to protect the integrity of the system of trial by jury.

The judge, they said, took no account of the potential risk of prejudice to the other jurors because of the bribery attempt.

“The judge should, however, have done more to investigate what had occurred. He needed to establish as best he could how wide the contamination had spread and over what period.

“While the Board has considerable sympathy with the judge’s dilemma, it considers that the course followed by the judge was a material irregularity in the course of the trial giving rise to a miscarriage of justice…”

Since the law lords arrived at their decision solely on the issue of jury misconduct, they did not express a view on the two other main grounds of appeal that dealt with improperly obtained cellphone evidence and undue pressure put on the jury.

Immediately after the decision was delivered, Palmer posted on his social media, “Victorious.”

Palmer has collaborated with performers such as Jay-Z and Rihanna.

The case against the four was that Williams and another man – Lamar Chow – had been given two unlicensed firearms belonging to Palmer for safekeeping.

They had allegedly been summoned to Palmer’s house after they failed to return the firearms by the deadline. The prosecution alleged that the two men were attacked and Williams was lying motionless on the ground. Chow escaped and Williams was never seen again.

When police went to Palmer’s house four days later, on August 22, 2011, the house allegedly smelled of disinfectant. Two days later, the premises were cordoned off and treated as a crime scene, but on August 29, 2011, when they returned, the entire house had been destroyed by fire. Police forensics allegedly reported a foul odour from the living room of the house. Again, on September 30, 2011, police found the rear of the house demolished and although they dug, they did not find a body.

The cellphone evidence allegedly pointed to text messages, voice notes and a video which the prosecution said, when taken with Chow’s evidence, proved the fact of the killing, the reason for the killing, the method of the killing as well as the identity of at least one of the killers.

The four had maintained their innocence throughout the trial.