Gunmen’s sentences reduced by five years
Two men convicted of a shooting which injured a pregnant woman and her boyfriend have had their sentences reduced.
Jahmel Blakeney and Sanchey Grant were both convicted of two counts of attempted murder in connection to the 2009 shooting and sentenced to 30 years in prison, but the Court of Appeals yesterday cut the sentences for both men by five years.
The court had heard that Shaki Minors and his pregnant girlfriend Renee Kuchler were both shot multiple times while leaving the Southside Cinema. While both victims survived the attack, Ms Kuchler lost her child as a result of the injuries suffered and Mr Minors suffered lasting numbness in his fingers due to the attack.
Both Blakeney and Grant were arrested in the early hours following the shooting after running through a police roadblock in St David's. The firearm used in the attack was subsequently found on the side of the road between where the men drove past the roadblock and where they were stopped.
Prosecutors said that the shooting was committed as payback for a shooting a week earlier in which members of the Parkside gang were targeted, alleging that the defendants were linked to that gang.
They told the jury that Grant was the gunman, while Blakeney was the “mastermind” who organised the attack after seeing Mr Minors — an associate of the 42 gang — at the theatre earlier that evening.
The men were both sentenced to 30 years behind bars, but subsequently launched appeals against their convictions arguing that Puisne Judge Carlisle Greaves had erred in his directions to the jury by saying that if they were to find one man guilty, they should find them both guilty.
Lawyers Charles Richardson and Craig Attridge, representing Blakeney and Grant respectively, also argued that gang, DNA and gun shot residue (GSR) evidence heard during the trial was more prejudicial than probative and should not have been put before the jury.
In a written judgement issued yesterday, the Court of Appeals upheld the conviction of both men, stating that while there was no direct evidence identifying Grant as the shooter or Blakeney as the “procurer”, there was a very strong circumstantial case.
“Both defendants were stopped in a car driven by Blakeney that had sped through a roadblock manned by the police two-and-a-half hours after the shooting,” the judgement stated.
“The gun was undisputable the one used in the shooting and was found a few hours later in a place that was consistent with it having been thrown out of the passenger window after the car passed the roadblock and before it was stopped by police.
“Items were found in the car that matched descriptions of the witnesses of the shooting. GSR and GSR particles were found on various items in the car and on Grant's clothing. DNA from the gun showed a possible connection with both appellants as well as other members of the Parkside gang.
“Evidence of communication between the alleged participants began with Blakeney hurriedly leaving the cinema in the circumstances described by [witness Jalicia] Crockwell and continued with the numerous phone calls referred to in the evidence which ceased just before the shooting and Blakeney called no one thereafter.”
The Court found that there was no evidence on which the jury could have come to the conclusion that one appellant was guilty and the other innocent, and that the jury had been properly informed by Mr Justice Greaves of both the strengths and weaknesses of the DNA and GSR evidence.
And while the gang evidence would not be admissible to show motive by itself, in light of the other evidence before the court its probative value substantially outweighed its prejudicial effect.
On the subject of sentencing, the court ruled it was appropriate that the men's sentences for attempted murder be consecutive rather than concurrent given the severity of the case, but that given the principle of totality the sentences should be reduced.
As a result, the court reduced both defendants' sentences to 25 years — 12.5 years for each count of attempted murder to be served consecutively. The court also amended the time the men must serve before being eligible for parole, reducing it from 15 years to ten.