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Lawyers ask for conviction appeals over jury selection

Defence lawyer Mark Pettingill (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

A group of defence lawyers yesterday launched a bid to appeal the convictions of three men jailed for murder and attempted murder.

The move came in the wake of a ruling earlier this year which deemed that the jury selection process in criminal trials was unconstitutional.

Prosecutors could “stand by“ an unlimited amount of potential jurors selected for a trial, but defence lawyers could only challenge three.

Critics claimed that the system was unfair because it gave the Crown an unfair advantage and could be abused in order to stack a jury in its favour.

Lawyers representing three Westgate prisoners – LeVeck Roberts, Quincy Brangman and Khyri Smith-Williams – filed a notice of application for an extension within which to file an appeal.

Roberts was jailed for life in 2015 for the double murder of Ricco Furbert and Haile Outerbridge.

Brangman is serving a 25 year sentence for the attempted murder of Nathan Darrell in 2010 and Smith-Williams was jailed in 2018 for the 2011 slaying of Colford Ferguson.

Lawyers argued at yesterday’s hearing that, in the trials of all three men, prosecutors had rejected dozens of names selected at random from a pool of potential jurors without first asking if there was a valid reason why they should not sit in on proceedings.

Carrington Mahoney, the Deputy Director of Prosecutions, admitted that it was common practice, but insisted it was done on the grounds of expediency and had no impact on the final make-up of any jury.

He claimed that it was often known that a potential juror was not suitable for a trial because of some conflict, such as being an acquaintance of the accused or victim.

Mr Mahoney said it more efficient to ask the potential juror to stand by immediately, rather than get into a debate on whether or not they should be selected.

But defence attorney Victoria Greening dismissed the claim and said that the system was unfair and subject to abuse.

Ms Greening, for Roberts, told the three-man Court of Appeal panel: “My position is, it’s a game of probability and statistics and strategy that is afforded to the Crown and not to the defence.

“The system was abused and manipulated in order to form a jury that was going to maximise their chances of securing a conviction.

“That is just simply unfair, grossly unfair. It’s a tactical game of probability to the detriment of the accused.”

Ms Greening added: I do not and cannot accept the Crown’s position that they are acting out of convenience because they somehow know or have a hunch that a potential juror will come along later and provide an excuse to try and get out of being a juror.

“Having been a prosecutor and defence lawyer myself, we are never afforded the letters and excuses. That’s the kind of tactical approach that the prosecution was using and abusing for their gain and it’s grossly unfair.

Ms Greening highlighted it was important to look at jury selection in the context of the island’s racial make-up.

She said: “This fact coupled with the very powerful divergent feelings that are stirred up, particularly by gang violence … we have to look at the particular facts and circumstances of each case and how a jury selection process against that backdrop amounts to such substantial injustice and gross unfairness.

“It makes it all the more important for a defendant to be afforded the opportunity to have a fair cross section of jurors from the start, from the beginning of their trial.“

Mark Pettingill, who represented Brangman and Smith-Williams, said that the jury selection process was antiquated and gave the impression that the prosecutor was “running the show”.

He claimed the process had not been adhered to properly in previous trials.

Mr Pettingill said: “All of us missed this for years and just got into a very bad habit.

“The whole issue here, the overriding issue is about the appearance of justice that is occurring.

“That must be the paramount consideration – how does this look to the defendant who is on trial?”

The court is expected to make a decision on whether the appeals can go ahead by the end of this week.