More than four years after James “Jamie” Cockayne was stabbed to death on a Cruz Bay street, the case came to an end last week when his accuser accepted a plea deal.
Jahlil Ward, 24, was facing his third trial on charges of murdering 21-year-old Cockayne outside a Cruz Bay bar just after midnight on June 19, 2007, when he accepted the deal.
In V.I. Superior Court on Wednesday, December 8, Ward accepted a plea deal of one count of voluntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence. The deal dropped a previously included third-degree assault charge.
V.I. Superior Court Judge Brenda Hollar will sentence Ward, who has been incarcerated since his arrest in June 2008, on January 4 at 3 p.m.
Two separate juries handed murder verdicts to Ward, both of which were thrown out by Hollar. Ward was set to face his third jury on January 9 on charges of stabbing Cockayne eight times, including a fatal blow to the Pennsylvania man’s femoral artery. Cockayne bled to death on the street in front of the Fashion Palace before emergency responders arrived on the scene in the early morning hours of June 19, 2007.
In the wake of the murder, Cockayne’s parents launched a media blitz accusing V.I. Police Department officials of inaction. Family members appeared on national news shows Larry King Live and Greta van Susteren, among others, but no arrests came in the case for several months.
In August 2007, VIPD made the first two arrests in the case. Kamal Thomas and Anselmo Boston were arrested and charged with first-degree murder, assault and weapons charges. On June 27, 2008, VIPD arrested Ward when he returned to the territory from the mainland for the annual St. John Fourth of July Festival.
Initially, the three men’s trials were joined and they faced a jury together in October 2008. The trial lasted a week during which prosecutors alleged that Boston and Thomas fought with Cockayne at the now closed Front Yard bar in Cruz Bay. After the fight, Cockayne left the bar, followed by Boston, Thomas and Ward, according to prosecutors.
The three men followed Cockayne up the street and beat him with two-by-fours and a pool stick before stabbing the young Pennsylvania man to death, prosecutors alleged during the fist trial.
The jury that time around found Ward guilty of first-degree murder, third-degree assault and weapons charges. The jury found Boston and Thomas not guilty of murder, but handed down convictions of third-degree assault and weapons charges for the two men.
Hollar threw out Thomas and Boston’s verdicts after it came to light that the Cockayne family paid several witnesses who testified at court. The family had publicly issued monetary rewards for information leading to arrests in the case, of which the Department of Justice was aware. When Hollar learned of the payments, however, she tossed the convictions.
Hollar vacated Ward’s murder conviction when she learned that the prosecution had not shared a piece of evidence, relating to a jail house confession, with the defense.
The second time around, Hollar ruled that Boston and Thomas would stand trial separately from Ward. Thomas and Boston faced their second jury in March 2010, and were convicted of third-degree assault and weapons charges. Thomas was also convicted of threatening and intimidating a witness.
The two men were sentenced to 48 months, with 18 months suspended, for assault, and a consecutive 10 years, with two years suspended, for weapons. They were also fined about $15,000.
Ward faced his second jury on charges of murdering Cockayne in December 2009. That time around, the jury found him guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree assault and weapons charges. At his sentencing on January 22, 2010, Ward’s defense attorney Michael Quinn petitioned for a new trial on grounds that the prosecution prevented a key witness — related to the jail house confession — from returning to the territory to testify.
Hollar found in Quinn’s favor, tossed the second jury’s conviction and granted Ward a new trial. That third trial was set to begin in January 2012, but Ward’s acceptance of the plea deal last will means he will not face that third jury.
Cockayne’s parents, who have attended every trial for all three men, were not pleased with the news of Ward’s plea deal.
“We as a family do not agree with any plea deal,” said Cockayne’s mother, Jean Cockayne. “The man [Ward] is guilty and now he is worried he will be convicted again. We are not happy that Ward accepted a plea deal of voluntary manslaughter.”
“He will be free in no time at all,” said Jean Cockayne. “I guess it will save the territory the expense of a third trial. This is not justice.”
Jean Cockayne held out little hope that justice would be served to the man who killed her son.
“There will be no justice for Jamie,” she said. “Now we wait for the sentencing with little hope. Crushed, devastated and without our Jamie, what will happen now only Hollar knows.”
“What I hope for at this point is the devil is waiting and has a special place in hell for all those involved,” said Jean Cockayne.