DPP complains of intimidation of witnesses

vlcsnap-2013-05-31-21h01m45s65Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryl-Lynn Vidal reported this afternoon that a case brought against 42 year old Pamela Bennett Garnett and her son, 24 year old Mark Vernon for attempting to suppress evidence, and against Vernon separately for using violence against a witness was dismissed after the Magistrate’s Court refused a further adjournment to allow a material witness to return to testify in the case. On December 19, 2012, 19 year old Raheem Requena was shot dead on Kut Avenue in Belize City. The police arrested and charged Cassian Bennett and Jermaine “Horse” Garnett for the murder, but according to Raheem’s aunt, Marie Alvarez, she was first approached by Pamela Garnett, Jermaine’s wife and Cassian’s mother and offered $5,000 to retract her statement. When she refused, she was threatened verbally by Vernon. Mrs. Garnett is alleged to have issued further threats on Christmas Day to Marie Alvarez, to the effect that that she, Pamela Garnett had placed $20,000 on Ms. Alvarez’ head and that her son would go free as a result of her being killed. Trial began on January 11 of this year and one witness was called, but Ms. Alvarez, who had already agreed to testify, had apparently left vlcsnap-2013-05-31-21h01m59s212Belize after Pamela Garnett was offered bail on January 7 from the Supreme Court and she was not available to testify. She freely told Mexican authorities who held her at the U.S. border on the day of the trial that she left Belize because she felt she was in danger and directed them to local authorities who confirmed her story. According to the DPP, her office had secured Ms. Alvarez for testimony by September and asked for an adjournment until then, but the Court refused a request for a further adjournment. The statement Ms. Alvarez gave Police was not tendered as evidence as it was not recorded in the presence of a Justice of the Peace or a Magistrate as required under the Evidence Act for the admission of a statement in the absence of a witness or where a witness is too afraid the testify, resulting in dismissal of the case. The DPP notes that this is a rare case of witnesses being brave enough to step forward and testify to threats against them which are routinely reported but not investigated. DPP Vidal believes the case could have gone through if bail, a constitutional right in this case, had not been granted because there was a short time between adjournment and the start of the trial, and if the witness, at first described as “adamant” on pursuing the vlcsnap-2013-05-31-21h02m12s76matter, had not given in to fear. According to the DPP: “The intimidation of witnesses is the main contributor to what is perceived as the failure of the justice system. We have long made recommendations to amend the Evidence Act to allow for witnesses to be able to give evidence by way of video link, in criminal trials, (it is already available in civil trials under the Civil Procedure Rules). Such a provision would have seen a different result in this case (as would, of course, a more prudent approach by the police in recording the statement) and in many other cases. I am aware that Cabinet approved the amendment and that instructions were given for the matter to be taken further. We hope that those instructions would soon see the light of day.”

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