Wed | Oct 4, 2023

Preliminary hearing for Keith Clarke murder case to continue on April 13

Published:Monday | March 27, 2023 | 9:54 AM
Bail was further extended by the court for the defendants.

The case management hearing for the three Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) soldiers accused of the 2010 shooting death of businessman Keith Clarke is set to continue on April 13.

The matter was adjourned last Thursday by presiding judge Justice Vinette Graham Allen who indicated that she wanted all the lawyers in the case to be present for the hearing.

Lead attorneys King's Counsels Peter Champagnie and Valerie Neita-Robinson were not present at the start of the hearing but instead had attorneys from their firms standing-in until their arrival.

"Well, I am going to adjourn it because all the lawyers must be here to answer the questions that are being asked," said the judge.

"There is a decision, you see, pending in the Court of Appeal, that will be dealing with the whole issue of disclosure and so the court wants to have that judgment, not necessarily, but I want to ensure nobody can call for you to answer the questions that I am asking... It has to go on record the questions I'm asking."

She then asked the court's registrar to present dates for "everybody to be present for this process that is critical". 

Neita-Robinson and Champagne later arrived where the parties agreed to April 13 for the continuation of the case management hearing.

Before that time, the prosecution is to provide the defence with a list of witnesses it intends to call.

Bail was further extended by the court for the defendants.

Corporal Odel Buckley, Lance Corporal Greg Tinglin, and Private Arnold Henry were arrested and charged with murder after the businessman was shot 21 times inside his Kirkland Heights home in St Andrew on July 27 during a military operation.

Jury selection was forced to a halt in August 2018 after defence lawyers surprised the Crown with certificates of immunity which they claimed shielded the trio from prosecution.

The certificates of immunity were signed in 2016 by then Minister of National Security Peter Bunting, six years after Clarke's death.

Clarke's widow, Claudette, then challenged the validity of the certificates.

The Constitutional Court ruled in February 2020 that the immunity certificates were invalid, null, and void and that the soldiers should stand trial.

The soldiers sought to have the decision quashed by the Court of Appeal. But the nation's second-highest court struck down the Constitutional Court ruling regarding the certificates but affirmed the decision that the soldiers should be tried.

The appeal court, however, ruled that a voir dire, or a trial within the trial, must be conducted by a judge alone to determine whether the director of public prosecutions can rebut the certificates of good faith issued by the minister.

The appeal court judges also ruled that the Full Court erred in determining that the delay in issuing the certificates was manifestly unfair and unreasonable, and that, as a result, the soldiers should not be allowed to rely on them.

The matter, which had been stalled since April 2018, was placed back on trial list following a Court of Appeal ruling in January sanctioning the trial. 

The soldiers had reportedly gone in search of Christopher 'Dudus' Coke, the now-convicted Jamaican drug lord who is in a United States prison, when Clarke was killed.

Coke was the target of an islandwide manhunt after escaping a security dragnet inside his west Kingston enclave of Tivoli Gardens.

- Ainsworth Morris

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