Kidnapping convictions quashed, retrials ordered
By Loshaun Dixon
Three of the four men convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison for the 2011 kidnapping of a banker and his wife had their convictions squashed and will undergo a retrial after it was revealed that the errors made by the trial judge placed doubt on the safety of the verdict. The fourth individual’s charges were withdrawn after it revealed earlier in the day there was not enough evidence to uphold his conviction.
Larry Vaughn, who at the time was manager of CIBC First Caribbean International Bank in St. Kitts, and his wife, Gilda, were kidnapped in the early hours of Oct. 27, 2011, from their Seaview housing residence. The kidnappers demanded that Vaughn go to a bank situated on Bank Street and return with a sum of money in order for his wife to be released.
Two days later, a joint operation comprising members of the defence force and the police department found Gilda Vaughn in an occupied house at East Park Range. Ali Percival and Jermaine Riley were there as well and were arrested.
Percival, Jumana Walters, Clayton Laws and Riley were found guilty on two counts of the kidnapping of the Vaughns in 2013. All four men appealed the conviction Friday, which saw Walters become a free man after the court determined the charges against him should have been withdrawn. His counsel, Marsha Henderson, argued that Walters had been asked to provide food for Riley and Percival and there was no evidence to show that he would have known the crime had taken place. She added that it was incumbent of the judge to have Walters withdrawn from the case in that regard, saying the extent of the evidence against her client was that he was merely providing food. The prosecution and the justices of appeal agreed with the argument and Walters was allowed to leave.
The matter involving the other three started when Dr. Henry Browne Q.C. indicated that the men were underrepresented and the trial was unfair, as the judge did not allow for the caution statements of Percival and Riley and their defence to be considered by the jury. He stated that it was an elementary principle for the judge to put the caution statements of Percival and Riley to the jury and that the statements made by Laws was prejudice to Percival.
Jason Hamilton, representing Laws, stated that the judge misquoted the evidence and that the vehicle in the crime was allegedly provided by Laws, who said he didn’t know for what use.
Hamilton argued that the judge said Laws gave the vehicle to do the crime and that was a misquote, and for Laws to be held, it would have to be proven he knew of the crime and played a part. He also stated that the failure of the judge to put the caution statements to the jury made the trial unfair.
Regarding the 25-year sentence, Hamilton indicated that the trial judge failed to speak at how he arrived at that number and charged that it seems he arrived at that number in a “random manner.”
Director of Public Prosecution Valston Graham highlighted that Percival and Riley were found at the house with similar guns, hats and gloves as described by Gilda Vaughn when she and her husband had kidnapped. He argued that based on statements given, the suspects indicated to police that Gilda Vaughn was in the bedroom unharmed, which proved that they knew of her presence in the residence.
Graham then countered Laws’ arguments that he was threatened into providing the vehicle by stating that it was not an imminent threat and he had ample oppourtunity to seek refuge with the police instead of taking part, but instead took no measures whatsoever.
Arguing on the sentence reduction, Graham noted that the sentence was that severe according to the trail judge to serve as a deterrent, however, Graham said that he thought 18 years was an appropriate punishment.
In delivering the verdict, the justices of appeal acknowledged that the judge failed to put the defence before the jury and ill-treated the caution statements. They then deemed that the “plethora of misdirection” renders the convictions unsafe, stating that they were of the view that serious judgmental errors (as opposed to evidential errors) were made and these errors place doubt on the safety of the conviction. They subsequently quashed the convictions and set aside the sentences, but ordered a retrial in the matter.