Third Trial Possible as Hollar Considers Government Misconduct Motion
Jahlil Ward has gotten another reprieve from sentencing in the murder of Jamie Cockayne, and whether the 22-year-old Gifft Hill man’s second conviction for that crime will stand now is in question.
Instead of going forward Friday, January 22, with a scheduled sentence hearing, V.I. Superior Court Judge Brenda Hollar heard arguments on post-trial motions from Ward’s attorney, Michael Quinn.
Hollar said two issues the defense attorney raised require further consideration and could ultimately lead her to set aside the verdict of second-degree murder which a jury rendered in her courtroom on December 18.
It was the latest setback in a high-profile case that has seen many, with court appearances pushing a resolution away as often as they move it forward.
At last month’s retrial, prosecutors argued Ward fatally stabbed 21-year-old Cockayne seven times just after midnight on June 19, 2007, about a half-hour after the Pennsylvania man got into a fight with Anselmo Boston and Kamal Thomas inside Cruz Bay’s Front Yard bar.
The judge wants more time to consider Quinn’s argument that the V.I. Attorney General’s Office acted inappropriately by intimidating a witness from returning to the territory for the retrial. Quinn said prosecutors disclosed in a court filing they took the position that they would prosecute Daryl Martens for accepting a bribe from the Cockayne family.
At the same time, they offered immunity to three other witnesses who also took money from the victim’s parents but whose testimony was beneficial to the government’s case.
Martens made a statement to authorities in September 2007 recounting an ostensible jailhouse confession he heard Thomas make.
After Ward was convicted of Cockayne’s murder in October 2008, Quinn learned that out of almost 500 pages of discovery material turned over to Ward’s legal team, Martens’ statement implicating Thomas as the killer was the only document missing. For that reason, Hollar threw out the first jury’s conviction and granted Ward his second trial.
The Attorney General’s office resorted to misconduct the second time around to keep Martens from coming to court, Quinn argued, even with the recent fallout from their failure to disclose his statement, Quinn argued.
“They did their very best to keep Mr. Martens off the stand, even then,” Quinn said.
The Cockayne family paid to put Martens in a hotel for a week, and provided him with a car and a telephone.
The Cockaynes say Martens was homeless, and they wanted to make sure he would be available to talk with authorities. At the time, Ward had not surfaced as a suspect in the case, and Thomas was still considered the likely killer. Martens eventually left the territory and is believed to be in California.
After Quinn learned about the missing statement, dogged efforts to contact Martens proved fruitless, he said.
Quinn argued a possible reason for Martens inaccessibility was the looming threat of prosecution. He said the Attorney General’s policy was inconsistent with the offer of some form of immunity to the Cockaynes themselves, to two witnesses who received $5,000 payments that were characterized as reward money, and to Aaron Ferguson, the first to discover Jamie Cockayne after he was stabbed. The Cockaynes gave Ferguson money to consult with a lawyer before he talked to authorities.
Hollar granted Thomas and Boston, both convicted of felony assaults against Cockayne in October 2008, new trials after she learned of the $5,000 payments.
Quinn argued the government’s actions regarding Martens were heavy-handed and violated Ward’s right to a fair trial.
Hollar described the prosecutor’s position as “totally egregious.”
Hollar tried to remedy Martens absence in Ward’s second trial by allowing Quinn to examine Assistant Attorney General Renee Gumbs-Carty, the prosecutor in the first trial. Gumbs-Carty had met with Martens after he came to light. Quinn argued it was an inadequate substitute for having the witness himself.
Hollar must decide if the misconduct was such that Ward deserves a third trial. Other options would be to altogether dismiss the case, or to reprimand the government and publicly chastise prosecutors without infringing on the jury’s verdict.
The case against Ward largely rested on the strength of witnesses who said they heard the defendant confess to the crime. On Friday, Hollar agreed with Quinn that some witness accounts put forward at trial could not be reconciled with others.
Prosecution witnesses who incriminated Ward — all discovered by an investigator working for Kamal Thomas — directly contradicted the testimony of witnesses at the crime scene.
Glanville “Shark” Frazer testified that soon after the murder, Ward knocked on his door, barged into his house and asked for a ride to Estate Pastory. Some of that account was seconded by Frazer’s girlfriend, Jo’Nique Clendinen, who told jurors she let Ward in that night.
Ward held his shirt in his hand, had blood speckles on his white sneakers and said he “just had a fight with a white boy,” Frazer testified.
But witnesses at the crime scene said Cockayne’s attacker ran straight to a waiting car that was parked on the street outside Frazer’s house.
Abigail Schnell, who watched from her second-story apartment, could not remember if the fleeing assailant got into the passenger or driver side of the car. Ferguson, who saw Cockayne emerge from behind a construction partition profusely bleeding, said a heavy set man was already standing by the getaway car, ready to drive off.
Hollar said she will need to review the trial transcripts before she can decide if a conviction based on such conflicting testimony can hold.
Matters involving the credibility of witnesses are generally in the province of the jury, who decide how much weight to give to any witness’ testimony. But a trial judge has the discretion to override verdicts that are clearly illogical.
Hollar set a deadline of February 16 for written arguments regarding the two outstanding issues.