After a four-day trial in V.I. Superior Court before Judge Brenda Hollar, a jury found Jahlil Ward of St. John guilty of killing 21-year-old James “Jamie” Cockayne of New Hope, PA, in downtown Cruz Bay just after midnight on June 19, 2007.
The verdict was handed down by the jury of six men and six women around 7 p.m. on Friday, October 10, following nine hours of deliberations.
Ward was found guilty of first-degree murder, third degree assault and using a dangerous weapon during the commission of a third degree assault. For first-degree murder, the 20-year-old faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The other two defendants in the case, Kamal Thomas, 18, and Anselmo Boston, 31, were aquitted of murder and manslaughter charges. The jury found each of the two St. John men guilty of two counts of third degree assault and using dangerous weapons during both of the assaults.
Third degree assault carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, but with the added weapons charges, the men can face as many as 15 years for each of the offenses. The weapons charges carry a minimum sentence of two-and-a-half-years.
Sentencing November 14
All three defendants will appear before Judge Hollar for sentencing on Friday, November 14, at 3 p.m.
Ward was remanded to jail, where he has been since his June 27, 2008, arres. Boston and Thomas, who have been under house arrest with electronic monitoring since their August 2007 arrests, will continue complying with the conditions of their release.
With the lack of any DNA or forensics evidence, Cockayne family members were expecting such a verdict.
“Based on the evidence displayed to the jury, I think the verdict is what I expected,” said Bill Cockayne, the father of the victim. “My personal feeling is that they [the defendants] all knew what was going on, but the evidence didn’t show that. Based on the evidence it’s a reasonable conclusion.”
“My son is gone — he isn’t here,” Bill Cockayne said. “I think the verdict was fair given the evidence.”
Prosecutors in the case, while alleging all three defendants were aiding and abetting each other, were pleased with the outcome of the high profile case.
“Justice has been served,” said Assistant Attorney General Renee Gumbs-Carty. “I’m glad that the jury saw the truth.”
The jury did an excellent job of sifting through the facts in the case, according to co-prosecutor Assistant Attorney General Brenda Scales.
“I think the jury did a great job,” said Scales. “They sifted through all the evidence and determined who was responsible and who wasn’t. They had a lot of difficult facts to sift through.”
Retaliation for Kicking Jeep
The trial opened on Monday morning, October 6, with the prosecution alleging all three defendants were bent on teaching an inebriated Cockayne a lesson for kicking Boston’s girlfriend’s Jeep on the afternoon of June 18.
When Boston ran into Cockayne at the Front Yard Bar later that night, a melee broke out and Boston broke a pool stick over the Pennsylvania man’s head, according to prosecutors.
Boston, Thomas and Ward then followed Cockayne up the street to the Boulon Center intersection where they surrounded him and beat him, the prosecution explained.
Sometime after that, Ward allegedly followed Cockayne to the Fashion Palace, where the Pennsylvania man’s car was parked. Behind a wooden scaffold on the front of the building, Ward stabbed Cockayne eight times — including in the femoral artery — before fleeing to a friend’s house and asking for a ride home, according to prosecutors.
Cockayne stumbled out from behind the partition with blood spouting from his legs and chest and bled to death shortly after, according to the prosecution.
During the four-day trial, prosecutors showed the jury gruesome photographs of Cockayne’s multiple stab wounds, bruised face and body. The jury was also shown photographs of the street in front of the Fashion Palace covered with Cockayne’s blood.
While prosecutors did not pin Boston and Thomas at the scene of the stabbing, the charges of aiding and abetting one another in the crime alleged the men knew what was going on and did nothing to stop the criminal actions.
Prosecutors relied on the testimony of 21 witnesses to piece together their version of events. Several witnesses testified to seeing the men at the Front Yard and leave to follow an unsuspecting Cockayne up the street. One witnesses saw three black males surround a white male in the street near the Boulon Center intersection.
Other witnesses testified to seeing one man flee from the scene of the stabbing and run down Circle Street, past St. Ursula’s Multipurpose Center.
Glenville “Shark” Frazer testified that Ward knocked on his door after midnight on June 19 and said he just hurt “a white boy” and needed a ride home. Frazer’s girlfriend, who was at his home located past Paris Car Rental at the time, testified to roughly the same events.
In the days after the stabbing, two witnesses testified that Ward told them he “killed a white boy” and “nobody saw.”
Defense attorneys for Boston and Thomas pointed the blame at Ward and alleged their clients were at most only involved in assault.
“The blood influenced the verdict with respect to assault,” said Attorney Michael Joseph, who represented Thomas. “At most my client was guilty of simple assault. I’m extremely grateful to the jury to see there was but one killer and it certainly was not Kamal Thomas.”
“Not everyone was involved with the stabbing and I’m glad the jury saw that,” said Boston’s counsel, Attorney Benjamin Currence.
In his closing statement, Ward’s defense counsel Attorney Michael Quinn referred to Joseph and Currence as assistant prosecutors.
Despite trying to shoot holes through the government’s case and question the credibility of several witnesses, the jury believed the government’s general theory of events. After the verdict was read, defense attorneys polled the jury and each member testified to being in concert.