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Vybz Kartel Retrial Hearing: 5 Key Takeaways From Day 1

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Lawyers for Dancehall star Vybz Kartel and his co-accused, Shawn “Shawn Storm” Campbell, Kahira Jones, and Andre St John, were back in court on Monday (June 10) for a crucial hearing that could determine their future.

Convicted in 2014 for the murder of Clive “Lizard” Williams, the men are seeking their freedom after the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council quashed their convictions two months ago. The London court left it up to the Jamaica Court of Appeal to decide whether to order a retrial or dismiss the case altogether.

Here are five significant takeaways from the first day of the retrial hearing.

1. Structure of the Hearing

On Monday, the retrial hearing commenced with a packed courtroom reflecting the intense public interest in the case. This necessitated the use of a second overflow room to accommodate the excess of attorneys, journalists, and court staff eager to follow the proceedings.

The acting Director of Public Prosecutions, Claudette Thompson, is advocating for a retrial, while the accused are opposing it. Both sides have submitted preliminary arguments for the five-day retrial hearing.

The panel of Justices Marva McDonald-Bishop, Paulette Williams, and David Fraser will deliberate on whether the case merits a retrial or dismissal, considering factors such as the availability of witnesses, any prejudice to the accused, the interest of justice and what is in the public interest. 

2. Appeal Court Will Also Consider the Backlog of Retrial Cases

On Monday, Justice McDonald-Bishop emphasized that understanding the timeline of previous retrials is “material” to the current case, according to the Gleaner. She announced that the court would request a report on how long it typically takes for retrials to commence to assess the feasibility and fairness of a retrial for Vybz Kartel and his co-accused.

This approach mirrors the Bahamas Court of Appeal’s handling of the Simeon Bain case. Like Kartel’s, this case involved the Privy Council overturning the original murder conviction and the Bahamas court ultimately deciding against a retrial, citing the prolonged period since the crime, the case backlog, and the emotional and practical difficulties of a new trial.

3. Emotional Pleas Struck Out

The court rejected claims by Kartel’s son, Adidja Jahiem ‘Likkle Vybz’ Palmer, about his father’s health being too fragile for a retrial. Justice McDonald-Bishop ruled that medical evidence was necessary to substantiate such claims.

Justice McDonald Bishop also struck out Likkle Vybz’s claim that his grandmother, Kartel’s mother, Theresa Wilson Palmer, prays every night for her son, noting that the court is not able to say whether he witnessed her praying nightly.

The Gleaner said several other “excerpts from affidavits submitted by the two entertainers and their co-accused Kahira Jones and Andre St John, were struck out as argumentative, speculative and legal arguments.”

4. ‘Sir P’ and Pre-Trial Publicity

There were concerns over potential jury bias influenced by social media, notably YouTube channels like ‘Politricks Watch’ and its anonymous host ‘Sir P’.

Shawn Storm’s sister expressed doubts about finding impartial jurors due to widespread public discourse, potentially compromising a fair retrial. “I have seen many social media posts from bloggers like Sir P, who do not conform to any of the traditional norms of journalism who have widespread viewership who espoused all the wildest theories which will undoubtedly influence many Jamaicans who cannot be counted on to be so entranced by the Bible foisted up and confess their bias,” she said in her affidavit.

The Gleaner reported that she also questioned the adequacy of Jamaica’s jury vetting and polling system, suggesting it is incapable of filtering out biases stemming from widespread online discourse. She expressed skepticism that any directions given by a trial judge could sufficiently mitigate the unfairness resulting from this pervasive pre-trial publicity.

Despite the prosecution’s objection, the court ruled that the defense’s arguments concerning pre-trial publicity should be considered.

5. Defense Confident in Outcome

Following the conclusion of day one, attorneys representing the four men expressed optimism about vindicating their clients. Attorney Alessandra LaBeach stated that her clients are eager to have the matter resolved and return to society and their families.

“Last we spoke, all of the appellants were eager to have the matter dealt with so that the issue of their freedom can be determined. They are eager to return to society and their families, so we are endeavouring to ensure that is attainable,” she told the Observer. “We have put in a lot of work and a lot of time in preparing for the matter, and we are endeavouring to put our best foot forward in representing the men and vindicating the men.”

LaBeach added that the issues addressed on Monday will not adversely impact the appeal.

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