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To release or retry: Vybz Kartel retrial hearing begins

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On Monday, the Court of Appeal commenced hearings to determine whether dancehall artist Vybz Kartel and three other men will face a retrial for murder.

The proceedings, expected to last five days, are being overseen by Justices Marva McDonald-Bishop, Paulette Williams, and David Fraser.

Justice McDonald-Bishop emphasized to the media that the court will “not hesitate” to take action against anyone breaching the rules on providing coverage of the hearing. She highlighted the growing issue of social media’s unregulated spread of information, stating that those disseminating such content could face contempt of court charges.

A key argument from the defense will be the impact of pre-trial publicity. Meanwhile, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is advocating for a retrial, a position contested by the accused.

Factors being considered for a retrial include the availability of witnesses, potential prejudice against the accused, the interest of justice, and public interest.

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Background of the Case

Adidja Palmer, known as Vybz Kartel, along with Shawn ‘Shawn Storm’ Campbell, Kahira Jones, and Andre St John, were charged with the murder of Clive ‘Lizard’ Williams in September 2011. The four were convicted in March 2014 and sentenced to life in prison the following month. Their convictions were upheld by the Court of Appeal in 2020.

However, on March 14, 2024, the UK-based Privy Council, Jamaica’s highest court of appeal, overturned these convictions due to juror misconduct. The trial judge had failed to dismiss juror Livingston Cain, who was later found guilty of accepting a bribe to influence the jury. Despite overturning the convictions, the Privy Council did not free the men, instead mandating the Court of Appeal to decide on a potential retrial.

Kartel and his co-accused maintain their innocence.

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Current Status

On May 30, Judge Andrea Thomas ruled that Vybz Kartel and two of his three co-accused would remain in custody pending the decision on a retrial, following a habeas corpus application. Judge Thomas stated that as long as the retrial issue is unresolved, the murder charge remains in effect.

As the hearing progresses, all eyes will be on the Court of Appeal’s decision, which holds significant implications for both the accused and the broader Jamaican legal landscape.

In a recent television interview just days after habeas corpus application for the deejay’s release was denied, attorney Isat Buchanan revealed that the artist’s health is on a rapid decline.

Vybz Kartel reportedly suffers from Graves’ Disease and a heart condition.

The deejay’s health is also one of the arguments being made for his release.

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