Decision in ‘vigilante justice’ funeral attack to be delivered Monday
Nearly three years ago, a group of men threw objects at the boyfriend of a deceased woman while he stood beside his girlfriend’s grave at her funeral, in an attack motivated by rumours circulating at the time.
Now, after lengthy evidence, the court will finally deliver its decision on whether relatives/friends of the deceased — Kazim ‘Meds’ Alexander, Dane Daniel, Jeronza Thomas and Junior ‘Trunkie’ Charles, were indeed involved in the illegal events of May 27, 2018 at the Chauncey Cemetery.
These four provided their defense on Monday, March 1, at the Kingstown Magistrate’s Court denying that they were the ones who attacked Paul Stephens, boyfriend of the late Jetonnia Thomas, throwing missiles and wounding him after funeralgoers began singing the final hymn to accompany the laying of flowers on the grave of the 32-year-old.
Alexander told Prosecutor Corporal Corlene Samuel under cross examination that he and the deceased were close friends as they knew each other from Chauncey.
He said he didn’t know Jetonnia’s boyfriend Paul Stephens, and no one had told him anything about how Jetonnia died.
Alexander said he was drinking rum at the time and can’t remember details of the funeral such as everyone who was present.
Dane Daniel, who was close to Jetonnia’s brothers and knew her from Chauncey, said that he knew about the rumour going around at the time that suggested she was killed by Stephens (It was later revealed that the cause of death was heart failure).
He admitted asking who the man that was with Jetonnia was, and him being pointed out to him. He said he picked up a stone by did not throw it at anyone, and he denied making a howling sound to signal to the others as part of a plan.
Jeronza is the brother of Jetonnia, and he said that Jetonnia was “the best one” of his sisters.
At the funeral he said he was singing and crying with his sister when the fighting broke out. When it began, he said Stephens ran in his direction and he chucked him off.
He denied any of the charges he is facing including wounding Stephens, possession of an offensive weapon and disturbing an assembly lawfully engaged in the performance of a religious ceremony.
Jeronza also alleged that Stephens used to abuse his sister “plenty”, and said that the “neighbours” had told him Stephens killed his sister. He also spoke about a cut on his sister’s hand, and submitted that she had tried to box out the window.
Charles, who was the stepbrother to Jetonnia, said he was by a bar drinking and a lady told him about the fighting. He didn’t move until his nephew ran up to him to tell him that somebody nearly hit his mother.
When he went up to the cemetery, he saw his mother shielding someone who he heard was Stephens at a later stage. He said his father then held him, and he didn’t do anything.
He said all of the accused men were Jetonnia’s cousins.
The prosecution witnesses included but were not limited to Stephens himself, the pastor conducting the burial, and a police officer who could see the cemetery from where she is living.
The police officer identified Daniel as the person who howled. She said she saw Charles run into the cemetery and being held by some persons. Charles got away from these persons, according to the witness, and ran up to Stephens, punching him. Apparently, the witness saw Alexander hit Stephens with a board, before picking up a block and throwing it.
A video was circulated when the incident occurred but was never admitted into evidence.
“This is one of the many occasions that I don’t envy sitting where you are to adjudicate over this myriad of confusion and chaos that the prosecution has presented to you as their case,” Ronald Marks, counsel for defendants Alexander and Charles, told Senior Magistrate Rickie Burnett on Tuesday.
“I cannot blame the prosecution your honour, they can only play the cards that they have been dealt,” he added.
The report made by Stephens was against “unknown named persons”, the attorney pointed out.
Marks submitted that identification was a critical and crucial issue, and that there was no clear identification by any of the witnesses.
Referring to evidence given by Stephens, Marks quoted “I was crowded by people trying to protect me from them. I could not have recognised any of them”. He noted that at a later date, “he repeats again ‘I could not have seen.’”
The lawyer said that the evidence of the police officer is not that she identified Kazim Alexander but someone that she later learned is called “Kas”. Marks submitted that no one calls his client “Kas”.
“Weak evidence your honour and dangerous to convict on such evidence,” the lawyer said.
Marks and Dr Linton Lewis, counsel for Daniel, joined hands with their submissions as it relates to the law on religious assembly. Lewis noted, “…the pastor clearly said that he had finished the rites and they were singing the crowning hymn.
So anything that the Seventh Day Adventist Church does in a cemetery or in a funeral, that came to an end as soon as the pastor finished.”
Marks buttressed this, saying, “The pastor said I had finished the benediction. There was nothing else for him to do. The person who carried on the religious ceremony was the pastor and if the pastor done, the assembly finish, the ceremony finish, it is over. There is nothing to disturb anymore.”
In his closing submissions, Lewis said that there is no evidence that anyone saw his client strike Stephens. No evidence was given by the witness officer that she saw Daniel striking him but that he made a howling sound and picked up a stone.
“Paul Stephens clearly said that he did not know who hit him because his head was down trying to defend the blows. He didn’t know. Even the evidence he gave to the police in this matter, he didn’t know who hit him,” Lewis said.
He noted that Stephens went on later to identify who hit him where, but reiterated that he had told the police that he did not know who hit him.
Lewis also made submissions that a stone is not an offensive weapon.
The decision in this matter, which when it occurred had been billed as a case of vigilante justice, is supposed to be given on Monday, March 8.