By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE COURT of Appeal has deferred its decision on whether it will accede to a man’s legal bid to be acquitted of the 2011 murder of a former most wanted suspect.
The appellant was previously sentenced to 45 years in prison for murdering the victim seven years ago.
Rolin Alexis’ case was heard before Court of Appeal President Sir Hartman Longley, along with fellow Justice Jon Isaacs and Sir Michael Barnett (acting) concerning the 2011 murder of Deslin Nichols.
Though the judges will provide their decision at a later date, a recurring issue during yesterday’s proceedings was the trial judge allowing a sketch of the alleged assailant to be tendered into evidence, and if that judge gave sufficient direction to the jury on the reliability of the sketch.
That issue, and others, were what Alexis’ attorney Stanley Rolle used to support his contention that Alexis’ conviction for murder be quashed and he be acquitted of the crime.
Mr Rolle had further submitted that the appellate judges not order a retrial based on the “quality of the evidence.”
According to the Crown’s case, around 6.40am on July 21, 2011, Nichols was in his vehicle on Florida Court waiting for Anastasia Ellis.
Ms Ellis, while walking to the front of the vehicle, noticed two men standing further up the street on Florida Court.
One of the men wore a dark blue hoodie and blue, long pants. His back was facing her at the time so she couldn’t see his face.
However, the man was said to be 5’4” to 5’5” tall. The other man wore a white piece of cloth over his head, and stood as if he were looking through the corner. That man was about 5’6” to 5’7” tall.
Both men had dark complexions.
In her statement to police, Ms Ellis stated she didn’t pay much attention to the men because she thought they were going to work. However, she said as soon as she got in the car and closed the door, and Nichols reached to close his door, the man in the white t-shirt ran up to the car and pointed a gun directly at Nichols’ head before firing.
Ms Ellis said she noticed the gunman wearing Oakley shades with orange lenses.
She said she tried to get out of the car, but the other man started shooting at her as well. Nonetheless, she managed to get out of the vehicle and subsequently hid behind it.
The men started to run away and while doing so, Ms Ellis glimpsed the face of the man who wore the white t-shirt. She went back to the car where she found Nichols alive, still breathing, but with a gunshot wound to the head.
Ms Ellis said she would be able to identify the man who wore the white t-shirt. She also described the gun that man had as a “mini-type machine gun with a long clip”.
According to Mr Rolle, the Crown’s case relied on an alleged confession statement by Alexis, a video recording and a composite sketch of the alleged assailant. Mr Rolle said there was no other evidence linking Alexis to the crime.
Alexis, meanwhile, maintained his innocence, stating that he did not shoot Nichols because he was at the Corner Motel at the time.
He also maintained that the alleged confession statement was obtained by force and also allegedly told police to conduct an identification parade to prove if he really was the person Ms Ellis said she saw on the morning in question.
However, Mr Rolle said there was no evidence of an identification parade ever taking place.
Nonetheless, a Supreme Court jury convicted Alexis of Nichols’ murder in May 2015. Two months later, Justice Bernard Turner sentenced Alexis to 45 years in prison for the crime.
His sentence was shortened to 42 years and eight months after Justice Turner took into consideration the amount of time Alexis spent in custody—two years and four months.
Justice Turner also took into account Alexis being a “young man” with a “clean criminal history” prior to the incident in question and “being gainfully employed”.
In making his submissions yesterday, however, Mr Rolle claimed that some specific illegality or irregularity, substantially affected the merits of the case and the fairness of the trial, was committed in the course of the trial.
Specifically, Mr Rolle contended that the trial judge failed to address the evidence concerning identification in the trial and to “point out any inconsistency between that of the witness…with the actual appearance of the appellant and any other support that lends to a reliable identification.”
According to Mr Rolle, forensic artist Ernest Pratt created a composite sketch of the alleged assailant based on information he received from Ms Ellis. However, Mr Rolle said Mr Pratt explained at the time that a composite sketch is “not 100 per cent identification”.
However, Mr Rolle contended that no description of the alleged assailant given by Ms Ellis was tendered into evidence by Mr Pratt. And neither did that officer provide the forensic information fact sheet along with the exhibit.
Thus, Mr Rolle said the jury was left to “speculate” on the composite sketch, and should not have had to do so since they should have been properly cautioned on the issue during the judge’s summation.
Mr Rolle further submitted there was no explanation as to why an identification parade was not held, and further, why a composite sketch was the preferred method of identification over an identification parade.
Sir Michael, in particular, repeatedly questioned Crown counsel on what the trial judge said in his summation about the sketch in question, bearing in mind it was drawn based on what someone else said, and that the person who gave the information would have previously stated she could identify the assailant if given the opportunity.
Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Vernal Collie, in response, submitted that the sketch wasn’t prejudicial, and was more of an aide than a crutch to the trial.
Mr Collie submitted that as the sketch was created and consequently produced by an officer involved in the matter, it is thus admissible. He further submitted that the sketch was tendered into evidence without objection from defence counsel at the time and was thus available to the jury when it retired to deliberate.
Mr Collie also charged that the sketch in question is akin to a photograph which the jury could use to determine whether or not it bore any resemblance to Alexis.
However, Sir Michael challenged Mr Collie’s position, stating hypothetically that had the jury looked at the sketch, decided it looked like Alexis and consequently convicted him, it could be prejudicial in all the circumstances.
Justice Isaacs, meanwhile, questioned if in the absence of any factual descriptive information, the information Ms Ellis gave to Officer Pratt for him to create the sketch was hearsay.
“I could have produced a drawing of Mickey Mouse,” Justice Isaacs suggested.
Prior to his death, Nichols was reportedly charged with murder after eluding police for some three years.
Nichols was accused of the murder of Kirk “Tank Dog” Ferguson in the early 2000s along with Randino Pratt.
Police reportedly also previously issued an all-points bulletin for Nichols in May of 2011. He was reportedly wanted for questioning in connection with a shooting that took place that month.