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Monday 27 May 2019
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First judge-alone murder trial ends:

Kwasi Forde, first man to be free using the judge-alone trial at the San Fernando High court. He was freed over the cover girl murder in 2005.
Kwasi Forde, first man to be free using the judge-alone trial at the San Fernando High court. He was freed over the cover girl murder in 2005.

In the first judge-alone criminal trial of a murder case, Justice Gillian Lucky yesterday found Kwasi Forde not guilty.

Presiding in the San Fernando High Court, she delivered a 45-minute written judgment and rejected evidence from the prosecution’s lone eyewitness, a customer at the Covergirl Restaurant & Bar, Carib Street, San Fernando.

On October 10, 2005, another patron, Gerard Bocas, was shot dead in the bar. Forde, 38, of Upper Hillside, San Fernando, was on trial for staging a robbery with three other men who stormed the place and robbed customers, some of whom were were injured.

Forde, who had been awaiting trial in prison for the past 14 years, elected to be tried by Lucky instead of a jury of 12. His choice was allowed under Section 2 of the Miscellaneous Provision (Trial by Judge Alone) Act, 2017, proclaimed by President Paula-Mae Weekes three weeks ago. It lets an accused person to choose trial by jury or a judge alone.

Forde’s trial for murder began on February 6. Including yesterday’s hearing, the duration was six days. Trial by jury in murder cases usually takes approximately six weeks.

Lucky listened to witnesses called by senior state attorney Trevor Jones, who prosecuted, and Forde’s attorney Larry Williams. Forde chose not to give evidence.

His mother testified that he was at home in his room at about 10 pm during the robbery. Lucky said she disbelieved the alibi presented by Forde’s mother.

However, she said she could not attach much weight to retired Inspector Richard Thomas’ evidence that when he confronted Forde about the robbery, he said, “Bruiser, is not me who shoot the man.” Lucky made much of the obvious inference to be drawn from that statement but said it was not supported by documentary evidence – a police station diary or Thomas’ pocket diary.

“There is not a written record of it being made,” Lucky said.

The judge said the prosecution’s only direct evidence, the identification parade, was also flawed, and eyewitness Karril Green’s identification of Forde did not meet the standard expected of a police ID parade. The men who staged the robbery either wore hats or covered their heads, but it was only when Green told the police so that a hat was placed on Forde’s head. To compound the error, the judge added, the rest of the men on the ID parade were not given hats to wear. Lucky commented that ID parades must be held with scrupulous fairness.

She told Forde he was not guilty and free to go, but advised him to choose his company wisely.

When he left the courthouse, Forde said he had met several other inmates in jail who had been awaiting trial for over 14 years.

“They will go judge-alone,” he said. “Is I who give them the idea. It have real prisoners waiting to try by judge alone. It have real men who go take that now.”

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