V.I. Supreme Court Rejects Challenge By Two Convicted in Cockayne Death


(L to R) Kamal Thomas, Anselmo Boston, and Jahlil Ward

Justices of the Virgin Islands Supreme Court have rejected the latest appeal of two men convicted of assaulting a Pennsylvania man in a 2007 Cruz bay bar room fight.

Supreme Court Chief Judge Rhys Hodge, along with Associate Justices Maria Cabret and Ive Swan ruled against defendants Anselmo Boston and Kamal Thomas March 10. The two men are serving 12-1/2 year sentences for the beating of James Cockayne in June 2007.

Cockayne died from knife wounds minutes after participants in the fight, which began at the Front Yard Bar, raced up the road towards an alley near the former Fashion Palace clothing store in Contant-Enighed. A third man, Jalil Ward, who was present at the bar during the fight, was found guilty of inflicting the fatal wounds minutes later at the second location.

Boston and Thomas were originally charged with murder in the case, but the charges were lowered to assault as the case made its way twice through Superior Court and once through the high court on a related matter.

In issuing the March 10 opinion, Chief Justice Hodge addressed defendant’s claims that they were denied a trial by a fair and impartial jury. The claim was based on an assertion by Thomas that a juror overheard other jurors saying he and Boston killed Cockayne prior to the start of deliberations.

That assertion almost derailed the second trial for Thomas and Boston. It became the subject of Oct. 9, 2012, and Nov. 13, 2012, evidentiary hearings. At the outcome the lower court ruled the defendants could not prove that overheard statements by an alternate juror tainted the deliberations by introducing extraneous or improper statements.

The trial resumed; both men were found guilty of using a dangerous weapon in the commission of a violent crime and simple assault. Thomas was further convicted on two counts of threatening a witness.

But the defendants were not through with the legal challenge. They returned to the high court, saying the judge in their trial improperly kept them from questioning the jurors during the 2012 hearings.

Lawyers for both sides argued before Hodge, Cabret and Swan with the new legal argument on July 25, 2013.

“Following a remand from this Court, the Superior Court held a hearing to determine whether the jury that convicted Thomas and Boston considered extraneous or extrinsic information and if so, whether this misconduct was prejudicial,” Hodges wrote in his opinion. “Because we defer to the trial court’s factual finding that no misconduct occurred prior to deliberations, and further conclude that the Superior Court’s error in restricting the scope of the hearing was harmless, we affirm.”

The justices cited the Federal Rules of Evidence, a body of law that dictates how trials and related proceedings are conducted, in making this determination. Normally the parties to a hearing would not be allowed to question witnesses appearing an evidentiary hearing, but they said there three important exceptions to this rule.

And the circumstances surround Thomas’ claim that jurors had extraneous information introduced to them during deliberations, based on the statement of the alternate witness, was one of them.

However, the justices said, neither Thomas nor Boston followed through to prove the deliberations themselves were faulty. They also did not have their lawyers challenge statements made at trial, saying Cocayne died on the night they assaulted him.
Therefore it would not be considered out of the ordinary for jurors to discuss the possibility that Boston, Thomas or Ward had a hand in the victim’s death.

Jahlil Ward Up for Parole?
Jean Cockayne, mother of James, said she has been keeping an eye on the high court proceedings and was thankful for the ruling.

“I have received and read this last appeal and I am relieved the process for Thomas and Boston is settled. My worry now is I believe Jahlil Ward may be up for parole this spring. As you can imagine this is troubling; the man who was found guilty twice for the murder of our son Jamie may be paroled after only a few years,” the victim’s mother told Tradewinds.

Thomas and Boston were also convicted of third degree assault.