Three months into 2014, six persons have been tried in court for three sensational and heinous murders. In fact there are about one hundred and ninety persons behind bars and the overwhelming majority is facing trial for murder or murder related offences. But if the acquittals since the beginning of the year are any indication, the conviction rate certainly looks dismal due to various factors, including sloppy investigative work. News Five’s Isani Cayetano looks at the recent rate of acquittals.

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The first quarter of the 2014 legal calendar concluded on Monday, regrettably, to less than desirable fanfare.   After all, a total of six inmates, on remand for murder or related offences, including five men and one woman, were recently acquitted of their respective charges.  At the start of the judicial year in mid-January, there were a little under two hundred persons on pretrial detention at the Belize Central Prison.

Kenneth Benjamin

[File] January 13th, 2014, Kenneth Benjamin, Chief Justice

“As of December 31st, 2013 there are one hundred and ninety-three persons awaiting trial in the Supreme Court, remanded at the Central Prison at Hattieville.  As you may well be aware, the vast majority, representing over ninety-percent, are charged and committed for trial for murder or murder-related offences.”

Among them: twenty-five-year-old Paul Jex, twenty-year-old Corwin Bennett, twenty-one-year-old Darren Banner, twenty-year-old Jason Anderson, twenty-four-year-old Brandon Budna and twenty-two-year-old Aracely Cahueque.  Despite their subsequent release, these names will forever be associated with three of the most high profile criminal cases in recent years.

On May 17th, 2010, Jex was charged for the shooting death of Aubrey Lopez, a teacher at E.P. Yorke High School at the time of his murder just a few days prior.  From the onset, Paul’s elder brother vehemently denied his sibling’s involvement in the senseless killing.

Elton Jex

[File] May 17th, 2010, Elton Jex, Brother of Accused Murderer

“The reason why I’m saying that the charges against my brother are bogus is because at the time when this incident happened, my brother wasn’t even in the crime scene area.  Apparently, the police they get lead where the vehicle that they said committed the crime, the police they get some lead that the vehicle was on some street.  Unfortunately, my brother was on the boulevard waiting for a taxi and he saw the same vehicle and he happens to know the driver of the same vehicle and the driver asked him if he wants a ride.  He told me that he did take the ride with the driver and as soon as he get in the vehicle, that’s when the police hauled up behind the vehicle flashing their lights.  So, he didn’t know what was going on so he stayed in the vehicle.”

Aubrey, a star basketball player, was the son of Belmopan Mayor Simeon Lopez.  When the matter commenced in the Supreme Court on January twenty-seventh, the family ardently believed that the case against Jex was ironclad, placing all faith in God and the fundamental principles of justice.  The decision handed down by Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin a few days later, would prove otherwise.

[File] February 13th, 2014, Mayor Simeon Lopez, Father of Deceased

Simeon Lopez

“If I believe that justice did not take its course here physically, I know that it will be served someday.  Justice will be served someday, not by me, not by my family but by a higher power.  Me and my family’s only concern was to get the truth and the whole truth.  As far as we now know, we will never know who killed Aubrey and why.”

That overwhelming sense of grief and lack of closure would also befall the family of Raymond ‘Killa’ Gentle, who was ruthlessly slain in a hail of bullets, as he constructed a home near his stamping ground in January 2011.  Arrested and charged for that murder was Corwin Bennett.  The accused would similarly be acquitted, despite statements in which he initially confessed to being the shooter, recanting thereafter to say that he only accompanied the gunman, before outrightly telling the court that the only reason he gave a statement to police was because his life was in danger.

Of the previously mentioned names, the most controversial case is that of Aracely Cahueque, et al.  Cahueque, believed to be the mastermind in the savage killing of Raylene Dyer, became a free woman on March twenty-first when the case against her collapsed in the Supreme Court.  It is argued that the former beauty queen contracted Banner, Anderson and Budna to execute Dyer.  Notwithstanding a statement purportedly given by Budna, the prosecution’s case imploded.

Richard Bradley

[File] March 21st, 2014, Richard ‘Dickie’ Bradley

“…and so the prosecutor announced to his lordship that his instructions was not to offer any further evidence in the matter.  When that happens in a court, when you have presented evidence, you either close your case before all your witnesses or close after your witnesses and the lawyer on the other side sees that, in fact, there is no evidence against Aracely Cahueque, so the lawyer’s duty, the duty that I had was to make a submission to the judge that what has transpired in the eyes of the jury, what has taken place is that there is no evidence.  Nobody, has linked Aracely to anything, nothing, nothing.”

Taken individually, the merits of the arguments in these three suits are all different.  What they seem to have in common is lack of proper evidence gathering, faulty recording of statements and ill-timed decisions, procedural errors that Senior Counsel Simeon Sampson is hoping will also lead to the exoneration of Viola Pook.  Pook is accused of setting her common law husband Orlando Vasquez on fire on New Year’s Eve 2008.

[File] March 14th, 2014, Simeon Sampson, Attorney for Viola Pook

Simeon Sampson

“This lady said absolutely nothing and when Sergeant Zuniga went to her, after doing his investigation and asked her, “Dah weh happen?”  Well the lady said, according to her, she remained silent.  But Sergeant Zuniga said that she blurted out, “Da me ketch ahn fyah.”  Situation like those trigger principles of law whether she was warned because I argued that the policeman ought to have cautioned her because he was reasonably on the evidence, he was investigating and when he approached her, “Dah weh happen?”  That was an accusatorial question and without any caution, as he ought to have done, I argued that the judge ought to have excluded that statement, “Da me ketch ahn fyah.”  Absent that statement there would have been no evidence at all, at all, at all for the judge to direct the jury to consider her as the person who burned her husband.”

Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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