The murder convictions for Yan Edwards and Allen Baptiste — who both were sentenced to life in prison with no eligibility for parole in 2013 — were thrown out as part of a recent Court of Appeal decision.
Keri Harrigan was shot and killed in Long Look on March 16, 2011. About two years later, after hours of deliberation by a nine-member jury, Messrs. Baptiste and Edwards were found guilty of his murder.
“We say the writing is on the wall in this case,” Senior Crown Counsel Valston Graham said in his closing address at the time. “The evidence is clear.”
But now, five years after the decision, part of that evidence is being re-examined.
On Jan. 30, Court of Appeal Justices Louise Esther Blenman, Gertel Thom and Douglas Mendes allowed the defendants’ appeal, thereby setting aside the duo’s sentences and ordering a retrial of the case.
The main grounds for appealing the conviction, court documents state, relied on a small section of the Evidence Act of the Virgin Islands, which outlines specific guidelines for a judge when voice identification evidence is involved in a case.
The Crown’s allegations in this case were “based on circumstantial evidence with voice identification evidence at the core,” the Court of Appeal judges said in the January judgment.
The two appellants were seen driving in the area several minutes before Mr. Harrigan was shot, but voice recognition evidence against the men came from “very short” telephone conversations, the judgment stated.
Patrick Thompson and Andrew Morrison, counsel for the two men, argued in the appeal that according to section 112 of the Evidence Act, High Court Justice Albert Redhead should have explained to the jury the circumstances surrounding the voice recognition, such as the special need for caution before convicting on that evidence.
Senior Crown Counsel Garcia Kelly admitted that the judge did not give the jury direction, but said the other evidence in the case could stand on its own.
Mr. Kelly argued that the witness who identified Mr. Baptiste’s voice had known him for over three years, had heard Mr. Baptiste say the day before the murder that he would “deal with” Mr. Harrigan, and saw the defendant drive by in the area minutes before Mr. Harrigan’s death.
The Court of Appeal agreed to another trial.
“The offence of which they were convicted is a very serious offence. The evidence against the appellants, although it was not exceptionally good, was not tenuous,” the judges wrote. “For the reasons stated above, I would allow the appeal, quash the conviction, set aside the sentence and order a retrial of the case.”
A new trial date has not yet been set. The two men remain on remand.