By FARRAH JOHNSON
THE Court of Appeal recently quashed the murder sentence of a man who was accused of shooting and killing another man in 2015, after the accused appealed his conviction on the grounds that during the trial the judge failed to give him a good character direction to which he was “entitled”.
Roscoe Knowles was accused of murdering Robens Simbert on February 24, 2015. During his trial, the prosecution relied on “key evidence” given by an anonymous witness named “Alpha.” At the time, he identified Knowles as the shooter and claimed that he had known him for three years prior to the incident that transpired that night. The prosecution “boosted” Alpha’s testimony by telling the jury that he had a clean record.
Yesterday, Justices Sir Michael Barnett, Roy Jones and Jon Isaacs ruled that the jury should have been informed that Knowles also had a clean record in order for the proceedings to be fair.
According to a judgment posted on the Court of Appeal’s website, sometime around 2pm and 3pm on the day in question, the prosecution said that Alpha was driving along Meadow Street when he heard five or seven gunshots. At the time, Alpha said he had witnessed a man come out of a short cut leading away from a battery shop and cross Meadow Street.
“The male had a gun in hand and disappeared through Dumping Ground Corner,” the court documents read.
“The witness Alpha identified the male as Skooy who he later identified at the identification parade conducted on March 4, 2015 as the intended appellant. Witness Alpha reaffirmed that the intended appellant was the one he saw with the gun crossing Meadow Street shortly after the gun shots had been heard. He said that he knew the intended appellant for three years prior to the incident and used to see him at least twice a week.”
Mr Simbert’s lifeless body was found after 2.50pm in a vacant yard off Augusta Street. The site was near the location Alpha said he had seen Knowles leave with a gun right after he had heard gunshots. Still, despite Alpha’s testimony, Knowles denied shooting Mr Simbert and claimed in court that he was home when the incident took place.
In his judgment, Justice Barnett noted that the case “raised the question as to the obligation of a judge to give the jury a good character direction when the issue was not raised by his defence counsel at the trial.”
“The intended appellant had only one breach of the law and that was a conviction in 2012 for disorderly behaviour. But this fact was not known to the trial judge until the sentencing hearing after the jury returned a unanimous verdict of guilty,” he stated.
“In this case, the matter is of significant importance as it appears that during his address to the jury counsel for the prosecution told the jury that the witness Alpha on whose evidence the entire prosecution’s case rested had a ‘clean record’”.
Justice Barnett concluded that it was evident that the jury was told that Alpha had a clean record based on the transcripts of the hearing. Still, he noted that Knowles’ attorney should have reminded the trial judge that Knowles was entitled to a good character direction when the trial judge asked him if there was anything he wanted to be pointed out to the jury that may have been left out.
“We accept that it is settled law that the failure to give a good character direction does not automatically result in the verdict being set aside as being unsafe,” the justices ruled.
“But in this case, the principal if not only evidence against the intended appellant was the testimony of Alpha. It was a clash of credibility. Just as the prosecution boosted the credibility of Alpha by telling the jury he had a clean record, fairness required that the jury also be told of the intended appellant’s ‘clean record.’
“For this reason, we regard the guilty verdict as unsafe. In the circumstances we will grant the application for an extension of time and allow the appeal against conviction. The conviction and sentence are quashed. We will hear submissions as to whether this is a proper case for a retrial.”