By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Court of Appeal has acquitted a man previously sentenced to 15 years behind bars for the role he played in the fatal armed robbery of a Cash for Gold employee in Grand Bahama five years ago.
Appellate Justices Jon Isaacs, Stella Crane-Scott and Milton Evans, dismissed Shawn Collie’s conviction and sentence in the January 19, 2013 armed robbery of Christopher Outten at Deadman’s Reef.
Additionally, the appellate judges said they did not order a retrial in the matter because of the “tenuous nature” of the Crown’s evidence against Collie.
According to the appellate judges, their reasoning for acquitting Collie was primarily because of the “prejudicial effect” caused by a key Crown witness identifying Collie as the “Tatoo Man” one of Collie’s co-accused told him about, despite there being no evidence that the “Tattoo Man” the witness knew and the “Tattoo Man” the co-accused referred to were one and the same person.
That, the appellate judges said, combined with the evidence of the deceased’s wife that she knew Collie to also go by the name “Tattoo”, which was subsequently “warped” by the Crown from “Tattoo” to “Tattoo Man”, ultimately “operated to undermine the fairness of the trial”.
According to the ruling, Mr Outten and his wife Anna Outten worked at US Gold in Grand Bahama. Mrs Outten was the manager of three stores located in the Jireh’s Plaza, Eight Mile Rock and in the International Bazaar.
Mr Outten ran the store in Eight Mile Rock.
On the date in question, a man who Mrs Outten later identified as Collie, and who she also knew as "Tattoo", came into their store as the last customer for the day. Mr Outten served Collie and purchased a 14-karat gold chain and charm from him for $1,540. Mr Outten placed the purchased items and some other items in a pink pouch that he then put in his left hip pocket.
The Outtens closed the store around 4pm and headed to Eight Mile Rock in a Ford F-150 truck. On the way they stopped at their home in Deadman’s Reef to pick up a fish pot they intended to put in the water by a dock in the Bahama Bay area. However, when they reached the dock they realized that Mrs Outten had forgotten to bring the rope needed to tie the fish pot to the dock, so they returned home to get it.
Upon their arrival, Mr Outten got out of the truck, followed by Mrs Outten. He was at the steps to the porch of the house when a masked man armed with a gun came from around the west side of the house. The masked man told Mr Outten to get down; but instead Mr Outten put his two hands on top of the truck.
Mrs Outten ran to a neighbour’s house leaving her Gucci handbag containing her personal items behind in the truck. As she was running, she heard what sounded like two gunshots.
The neighbour subsequently contracted the police who came, and accompanied by Mrs Outten, went to the home where they found Mr Outten shot to death in the driver’s seat of the truck. His pants pocket was pulled out and the pink pouch was missing along with the gold chain and charm. Additionally, the glove compartment of the truck appeared to have been searched as well as the Outten’s residence.
The Gucci handbag was also missing.
A search of the surrounding area was conducted and a gold, Buick car that was owned by Valentino Bethel, one of Collie’s co-accused, was found parked near the scene on an unnamed service road.
Collie was later arrested and questioned by police in the presence of his lawyer about the conspiracy, armed robbery and murder. Collie denied any involvement in the matter. Nonetheless, he was charged along with three others, namely Valentino Bethel, Natario Walkins and Harrison Walkins with conspiracy to commit armed robbery. The others faced additional charges of murder and armed robbery.
At the trial, one of the Crown’s key witnesses, Omar Rolle, testified that in December of 2012, he was contacted by Collie, who is his cousin, who instructed him to meet him at Burger King, downtown. He went to the location and upon arriving there met Collie along with Bethel, Natario Walkins and Harrison Walkins.
Rolle said Collie told him and the others that he (Collie) sold Mr Outten some gold, and that Mr Outten had two residences—one uptown and one in “the Rocks”. Collie further told them that when they hold Mr Outten and his wife, they were to bring all the gold and keep the money for themselves, and to not hurt the woman. According to the ruling, Collie wanted Rolle to kidnap the Outtens when they got to their home in Eight Mile Rock.
Rolle said after Collie explained everything, he told Collie he was going to get back to him, He told Collie to give him some time.
After the meeting, Rolle said he went to US Gold to warn Mr Outten of the plot to rob him. Rolle said that in the presence of Mr Outten and a police inspector who had been summoned by Mr Outten and who arrived in a K-9 Explorer jeep, he contacted Collie by telephone and put him on speaker. It was at this time that Collie reiterated the plan to kidnap the Outtens, not to hurt Mrs Outten, and that the gold was for him (Collie) while Rolle and the others could share the money.
The Crown also called a witness, Ryan Pinder, who, while giving evidence principally against Natario Walkins, called Collie’s name as a person involved in the conspiracy to rob Mr Outten. During his examination in chief, Pinder, when giving evidence of what Natario Walkins had told him, mentioned that “Tattoo Man” did certain things.
Pinder recounted how Natario Walkins told him “Tattoo Man” put the “plan together for Lil Man and Valentino, Natario and his brother, to rob the Cash for Gold man.” Pinder also spoke of Collie being angry because he did not get his cut out of the money taken from Mr Outten.
In answer to a question posed by Crown counsel, Pinder said “And he gone into saying that ‘Tattoo Man’…” Collie’s attorney at the time interjected and following an exchange between him and the court, the Crown attorney asked: “So you mentioned the name ‘Tattoo Man’; do you know ‘Tattoo Man’ by any other name?”
In response, Pinder said: “Shawn”.
However, the appellate judges said that portion of Pinder’s evidence was “highly prejudicial” to Collie, especially considering that it had not been established that the “Tattoo Man” to whom Natario Walkins was referring was the same “Tattoo Man” Pinder knew.
“It was not permissibe for the prosecution to have Pinder implicate the appellant in the manner that they did, notwithstanding the warning given by the judge that the account given by Natario was evidence against Natario only,” the appellate judges said. “Pinder’s mention of the appellant as ‘Tattoo Man’ combined with Mrs Outten’s evidence warped by the prosecution from ‘Tattoo’ to ‘Tattoo Man’ combined to create a prejudicial effect which in my view could not be erased from the jury’s mind; and operated to undermine the fairness of the trial”.
Additionally, the appellate judges said the trial judge should have alluded to Rolle’s evidence where he indicated that he had been taken into custody for Mr Outten’s murder, and how that may have influenced his evidence, that is, Rolle may have been seeking to minimize his involvement in the alleged plot and consequently placed the blame on someone else.
The appellate judges said the trial judge noted that Rolle may have been an accomplice, but did not explain the “significance of that status to the quality of the evidence” Rolle gave, and “how the jury was to approach such evidence were they to find as much”. The appellate judges said Rolle’s evidence required a “more robust” direction from the trial judge in the circumstances of the case and that his failure to do so “materially affected the fairness” of Collie’s trial.
Furthermore, the appellate judges said the trial judge ought to have mentioned the Crown’s failure to provide any evidence to support Rolle’s claims, for example, the inspector who drove the K-9 Explorer who listened in on Collie’s plan to kidnap and rob Mr Outten, and the inspector Rolle said he told of the plot.
“…A person in the position of (Rolle), to wit, a supposed confidential informant, who shortly after the death of Mr Outten, the man he was conspiring to abduct, moved into the very home where that man lived and was killed pursuant to a plot to rob in which he was to be a principal player, was undoubtedly a witness whose evidence the jury should have been warned to treat with the greatest caution,” the appellate judges said.
“For all of the foregoing reasons, I harbour a lurking doubt about the safety of the appellant’s conviction and the fairness and conduct of his trial,” Justice Isaacs said. “I hold the view that his conviction should be quashed and his sentence set aside.
“Further, I do not order a retrial in this case because of the tenuous nature of the Crown’s evidence against the appellant.”