Absence of key witness led to murder retrial
The absence of a key witness sparked a retrial in the case of Travone Saltus, who was last night convicted of the murder of wheelchair-bound Lorenzo Stovell.
Saltus was convicted of the killing last year and sentenced to 25 years behind bars.
However, the case was returned to the Supreme Court after the Court of Appeal ruled Saltus did not receive a fair trial.
A ruling by appeal judges, in March, said the key problem in the original trial was the evidence of Troy Harris, who said Saltus confessed to him that he shot Mr Stovell.
Marc Daniels, who represented Saltus during the original trial, requested that Mr Harris give evidence on the stand so he could be cross-examined.
But Mr Harris was remanded in custody at Winson Green Prison in Birmingham, Britain, at the time of the trial.
Puisne Judge Carlisle Greaves allowed his evidence to be presented to the jury without Mr Harris being present.
The Court of Appeal decision explained: “He found that it was not reasonably practicable to secure the witness's attendance and that reasonable steps had been taken to try to do so.
“Further, it would be impracticable to delay the trial until he might return to Bermuda.
“The judge noted that the evidence would be prejudicial to the appellant in the absence of an opportunity to cross-examine the witness but also noted that there was other evidence that the appellant was present in the area on the night.”
Richard Horseman, who represented Saltus in the second trial, argued that the Crown had not proved it was impractical to have Mr Harris available to give evidence.
He said the prosecution had approached the management of the British prison but not the Home Office, where the request should have been sent.
The decision added: “Mr Horseman submitted that it was inconceivable that the United Kingdom would not have honoured a request for the transport of Harris to Bermuda for the purposes of giving evidence in a murder trial.
“Since the appropriate request was never made, it cannot be known with certainty whether it would have been met.”
Mr Horseman also argued that there were contradictions in Mr Harris's statement which could raise doubts about his credibility.
The decision said: “All these are matters that would have been explored in cross-examination at the trial had Harris given evidence in person.
“Harris might or might not have emerged from cross-examination as a truthful witness.
“If credible, his evidence would have been very compelling evidence for the prosecution, but there was significant material on which to cross-examine and the appellant was significantly disadvantaged in being unable to do so.”
The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal and found that Mr Justice Greaves had not properly assessed the extent of the risk of unreliability of Mr Harris's evidence.
The appeal court also ordered that the case should return to the lower courts for a retrial in the interest of justice.
The decision said: “These cases make it plain that the overriding consideration is whether the interests of justice require a retrial having regard to the particular circumstances of the case. The allegation in the present case is murder, a most serious offence.
“The critical question is whether the evidence of Harris stands up to cross-examination.
“If it does, the appellant has a case to answer. If it does not, he does not.
“It is in our judgment in the public interest that his evidence should be heard and tested.”
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