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Two men guilty of attempted murder

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Two men who shot a gang member and his pregnant girlfriend outside a busy cinema have been convicted of attempted murder.

Jahmel Blakeney, the son of Cabinet Minister Glenn Blakeney and an associate of the Parkside gang, masterminded the attack.

He spotted 42 gang member Shaki Minors and his girlfriend Renee Kuchler at the late-night showing of 'Precious' at Southside cinema, St David's, on November 13 2009 and arranged for Parkside member Sanchey Grant to shoot them.

Both victims were hit by multiple bullets in the attack, which was said by prosecutors to have been sparked by an ongoing war between 42 and Parkside.

CedarBridge Academy teacher Ms Kuchler, 26, lost her baby and nearly lost her leg. She still walks with a cane as a result of the serious injuries she suffered.

Mr Minors, 28, still suffers from numb fingers due to arm injuries. His brother, Shane Minors, was shot dead on the doorstep of the family home just a month after the Southside shooting.

Prosecutors suggested Shaki may have been the intended target, as Shane had no gang links.

Two men stood trial over the killing earlier this year but were cleared of murder.

Detective Chief Inspector Nicholas Pedro said of yesterday's verdicts: “This was a particularly brutal crime which shocked the community greatly and we are obviously very pleased that justice has been done. This has had a great impact on the victims, both physically and mentally.”

Blakeney, 30, and Grant, 20, now face the prospect of lengthy prison sentences. They must return to court next month for a sentencing date to be fixed.

The jury heard they were caught after speeding through a police roadblock at St David's in the hours after the shooting.

Blakeney was at the wheel of his sister's black jeep, and accelerated through the checkpoint instead of stopping for police.

Grant, who was lying down in the passenger seat of the vehicle, out of the view of the police, threw the gun used in the attack out of the window. The jeep eventually stopped after being chased by the police, and Blakeney and Grant were arrested.

The gun, which was linked to the shooting through analysis of bullets removed from the victims, was discovered later that day by a female walker.

The pair were linked to the crime by gunshot residue and DNA on their clothing, and eyewitness accounts of the shooter. A DNA expert also told the jury the defendants' DNA was among that of several people found on the handgrip of the gun.

Text messages found on the phone of Blakeney's then-girlfriend, Jalicia Crockwell, also pointed to his guilt. Ms Crockwell told the jury she got annoyed with her boyfriend because they went to Southside to watch Precious together.

However, Blakeney decided not to watch the film, but to head straight back to town instead.

She texted a female friend of hers that night to report that Blakeney “saw some guy and n just ran out”.

She told her friend she did not know who the guy was but he was “from 42”. She also texted: “D guy was with his girl now he[e']s ... speedn back town 2 get them boys”.

Telephone records showed Blakeney was also in touch with alleged Parkside men that night.

They included Kinte Smith, who was at one point charged over the shooting but later saw the charges dropped. Blakeney also spoke with Grant via telephone six times between 9.35pm and the time of the shooting.

Blakeney and Grant were kept in police custody for three days after their arrests in the early hours of November 14, and then bailed.

On November 30, Blakeney fled to the United States, where he is a citizen.

He told the jury he feared for his safety after it emerged publicly that he had been arrested over the shooting. He revealed that police did not confiscate his travel documents after his arrest.

Blakeney, whose father is the Minister of Youth Affairs and Families, spent 11 months in custody after being arrested in New York. He challenged extradition proceedings, but was eventually brought back to Bermuda in April 2010 and charged.

Grant has been in custody since his arrest. Both he and Blakeney were supported by their families during the case, with representatives — including Minister Blakeney — seated in the public gallery each day.

The foreman of the jury was dismissed on the penultimate day of the trial after admitting he could be related to the Minister and his son.

Trial judge Carlisle Greaves ruled that this could create a perception of unfairness [see separate story].

Mr Justice Greaves had earlier ruled on Friday that Blakeney and Grant should be cleared of charges that they possessed the gun and ammunition in the case.

He told lawyers the additional charges made things unnecessarily complicated for the jury, when the crux of the case was the allegation of attempted murder. Minister Blakeney was not present for the verdicts yesterday and could not be reached for comment afterwards.

When news first broke of his son's arrest in November 2009, he told this newspaper: “Whoever is proven guilty for committing such a senseless, brutal and cowardly act, should face the full consequence of the law, once justice is done and seen to be done.

“Nonetheless, no matter who was arrested or who may be suspected, they are entitled to their day in court without there being a rush to judgment.

“However, of far greater importance and concern to me is the condition of the victims and my sincere hope that their families find the strength to be strong in supporting each other under such traumatic circumstances.

“No family deserves to be subjected to this sort of evil and I pray the victims experience a full and speedy recovery.”

Speaking after yesterday's verdicts, Mr Grant's uncle, who declined to give his name, accused Mr Justice Greaves of summing up the case in a manner that was biased towards the prosecution. “Do you think this is justice?” he asked, as he left court.

Mr Grant's lawyer, Jerome Lynch QC said: “There is no doubt in my mind that this merits an appeal.”

Jahmel Blakeney is lead away from Supreme Court after being convicted of attempted murder
Gunman and Parkside member Sanchey Grant
Foreman ordered off shooting jury

The jury foreman was dismissed on the penultimate day of the Southside Cinema attempted murder trial after admitting a family connection to defendant Jahmel Blakeney.

He was ordered to stand down on Monday after victim Renee Kuchler's father approached police alleging a relationship between him and the defendant's father, Families Minister Glenn Blakeney, which could influence the course of justice.

Glenn Blakeney, who was present in court during most of the two-week trial, faced questions on the stand about his connection to a sports club of which the foreman was president some years ago.

The foreman also took the stand, and confirmed he's a relative of another of Mr Blakeney's sons.

Puisne Judge Carlisle Greaves pointed out this means he's also a relative of Jahmel Blakeney, and relieved the foreman of his duties.

The news could not be reported until Jahmel Blakeney and co-accused Sanchey Grant were found guilty of attempted murder yesterday.

During the legal discussions, the Minister stressed he didn't know the foreman well, and said his links with his former sports club are minimal.

But the judge insisted the foreman must play no further part in the trial, telling him there was a perception of injustice as he's related to the defendant.

Leopold Kuchler, Renee's father and a former Progressive Labour Party candidate, took the stand on Monday morning, in the absence of the jury.

He told the judge he had visited the foreman's workplace to investigate whether there's a relationship between the Minister and the foreman.

He claimed it was a “well-known fact” that the pair are very close.

Mr Kuchler said he finally realised the foreman was connected to the defendant's father last Friday.

“When you sit in the public viewing area, thoughts go through your mind,” he said.

“You cannot get away from when you look at the jury and you think very, very hard, where do you know these people from? Eventually it sparks an idea.

“All of a sudden, everything comes together, you realise, yes you know this person.”

When he took the stand, Glenn Blakeney denied the assertion that he has ever been a member of the sports club.

“The only time I would have been at the club would have been not this year, maybe once last year,” he said.

On his alleged relationship with the foreman, Mr Blakeney said: “I met him for the first time a year ago as a result of my Ministerial responsibilities.”

He said he had a conversation with him regarding a work-related matter at that time but had not spoken since.

When the foreman was asked about his relationship with the Minister, he said: “I know the Minister. I think he could be a distant relative.

“He could be because Mr Blakeney's other son Glenn, who plays cricket, I know he's a relative of mine and I know him personally.”

Dismissing the foreman from the jury, Mr Justice Greaves said: “He believes that he may be related to the defendant.

“It's the kind of thing that caused Mr Kuchler to believe that she [his daughter] might not be getting a fair shake on this case. Mr [Shaki] Minors might think that he's not getting a fair shake.

“The public may look on and think that this is not a trial or juror that may conduct himself in the manner you would expect. That information alone is sufficient reason for him to stand down.

“We are not questioning your sincerity, not to think that you will be unfair to one side or the other.”

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Published November 23, 2011 at 5:00 am (Updated November 22, 2011 at 5:08 pm)

Two men guilty of attempted murder

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