Court Rejects Grandmother Killer's Appeal

A MAN who was sentenced to 40 years in prison for stabbing his grandmother to death seven years ago has lost his appeal over the matter.

In mid-2018, Johnathan Bethel was convicted of killing his grandmother Vivian Johnson on October 12, 2013. The jury returned its guilty verdict after an hour of deliberation.

He appealed the verdict on several grounds, chief among them that the DNA evidence on the alleged murder weapon was insufficient for the jury to assess its significance and that the trial judge failed to give a good character direction.

However, Court of Appeal Justices Sir Michael Barnett, Roy Jones and Milton Evans were not swayed by his arguments and upheld Bethel’s conviction and sentence.

According to a judgement posted on the Court of Appeal’s website, Bethel and his grandmother lived together. On October 12, 2013, the appellant went to a neighbour indicating that someone had killed his grandmother.

“When the authorities arrived, the body was stiff and cold,” the judgement notes. “The appellant was arrested and charged with the murder of his grandmother. At trial he gave evidence that he was asked by his grandmother to go and purchase paint. He said that when he returned sometime later he found a man ‘Zo’ dragging his grandmother and that Zo had attacked him before he escaped and got help.

“He was convicted and now appeals on the grounds inter alia that the DNA evidence of the handle of the alleged murder weapon was insufficient for the jury to assess their significance; the DNA evidence on the handle did not provide any statistical evaluation of the random match possibility by the analyst, that it affected the safety of the conviction and the appellant’s ability to have a fair trial; that the learned judge failed to give a good character direction and also that the learned judge erred in law and in fact when he failed to give a Lucas direction.”

During the trial, DNA evidence was led to show that the deceased’s blood was on the blade of the murder weapon and that the appellant’s DNA was on the handle. Evidence also showed that there was no DNA found on the handle of any person unrelated to that of the deceased and the appellant.

“The appellant acknowledged that his DNA was on the handle,” the jugement notes. “His case was that he fought with Zo and that would have caused his DNA to be found on the handle and did not prove that he killed his grandmother. The issue was clear to the jury and coupled with the other evidence, was sufficient to enable them to safely reach a verdict and to have a fair trial.

“The judge cannot be faulted for failing to give a good character direction. It is clear that the judge inquired whether there were any specific direction he ought to give and counsel for the appellant never suggested that the judge give to the jury a good character direction in any form.

“As to the question of whether the judge’s failure to give a good character direction, which was not requested by counsel, undermined the safety of the conviction, it is settled law that the failure to give a good character direction where the defendant was entitled to one does not automatically render the verdict unsafe. The failure to give a modified good character direction as to propensity did not affect the safety of the verdict,” the Court of Appeal ruled.

In regards to Bethel’s claim that a man named “Zo” was the actual murderer, Sir Michael said that story “lacked credibility”.

“The case for the prosecution was in our view very strong,” Sir Michael wrote. “The

appellant’s story lacked any credibility. It was crystal clear that Ms Johnson had been dead

for some time when the appellant claimed that he saw Zo dragging her by the legs to the

bathroom. Her body was already stiff and cold.

“She was in her panty and bra, which was what the appellant said she was wearing when his grandmother sent him out to buy paint. It lacks any credibility that she would have allowed a helper (Zo) into her house wearing only her underwear and there was no sign of forced entry. No doubt the jury took into account the fact that the appellant claimed he went looking for help and told Scott Rahming his grandmother was dead without even checking her body.”

At the time of the murder, Bethel was 21-year-old. He had one prior conviction for an incident that occured years prior, the court said.

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