Judge acquits murder accused but warns students: Knives have no place in schools

KNIVES have no place in schools, a High Court judge has admonished as he acquitted a 25-year-old man who has been in custody for nine years, charged with a murder he was accused of committing at the age of 15.

“Pens, pencils and books – but knives have no place in school. What are knives doing in school? I do not know,” Justice Geoffrey Henderson said, after telling Jonathan Timothy Bruce he was freed of the May 27, 2013, murder of Renaldo Dixon at the Waterloo Secondary School. Dixon was killed during the morning break period, allegedly over a girl.

Henderson also had a message for all school students: “Walk away.”

“Here is a schoolboy who has spent nine years of his life awaiting a trial, so even though he was acquitted he has lost nine years. It would have been better if everyone would have walked away.”

Henderson’s comments came as a postscript to his verdict of not guilty at the end of a judge-only trial at the San Fernando High Court, where he referred to the current rise in school violence.

He also noted aspects of the evidence in the case of a knife being found in Dixon’s pocket and another which was not found.

“How are these students permitted to enter a school with such dangerous and lethal weapons, and why do they have them? Perhaps there is a need now to start scanning students when they enter schools.”

He was also critical of the nine-year wait for the matter to reach trial, saying it was unacceptable.

“The accused in this matter was a form five student sitting exams at the time of this incident. It should never have taken this long to bring this matter to trial."

Henderson said Bruce had to wait nine years to have his day in court. Bruce was committed to stand trial in June 2016, but the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions only filed the indictment in December 2020.

Bruce’s attorney, Ainsley Lucky, had filed a motion to have the indictment stayed for abuse and delay, but Henderson overruled this.

He also had some advice for Bruce,

“You now have to pick up the pieces of your life. You are going back to a different Trinidad and Tobago…Make something of yourself. Learn to walk away.”

At trial, the State relied on the evidence of 31 witnesses, 18 of whom testified in person at the virtual hearing, including teachers and students.

It was alleged on May 27, 2013, Bruce and Dixon were in a classroom with other students when they were involved in a fight.

It was alleged, Bruce pulled out a knife and stabbed Dixon, a form three student. A school safety officer allegedly had to save Bruce from being kicked and cuffed by other students before the police got to the school and arrested him.

The defence argued on Bruce's behalf was self-defence and provocation.

One student testified to seeing Dixon slap Bruce. Dixon’s best friend said Bruce pushed Dixon before he was slapped and then pulled the knife.

After highlighting the testimony of several of the students, Henderson said the evidence of Dixon’s best friend was inconsistent with that of the other witnesses on the commotion in the classroom, and could not be believed.

“The deceased was his best friend, and I do not believe that he has given truthful and unbiased evidence.”

Instead, Henderson said the evidence of Bruce’s then-girlfriend, Kristen Dixon, and another female student at the time was more plausible.

“Both gave evidence of Kristen Dixon being placed in a difficult position of being forced to choose between the two boys in the presence of the boys, and choosing the accused...

“The evidence of these two witnesses points to the deceased being rejected by Kristen Dixon and, having been spurned, lashing out at the accused. It makes little sense the other way around.”

In his verdict, Henderson said there was sufficient evidence in the prosecution’s case to raise the issue of self-defence.

“This defence is for the prosecution to disprove to the criminal standard…On the evidence, the prosecution has not disproved self-defence.”

He said it was Dixon who initiated the attack.

Kristen Dixon testified that Dixon came to speak to her before the start of classes and she said she would speak to him during the break period.

She said when he left the classroom he walked up to Bruce, pushing him. She testified she separated the two and later that morning, during break, she was in her classroom when Dixon came and sat in front of her. They were speaking when Bruce was said to have walked into the classroom, went up to the two and gave her an ultimatum: make a decision.

She did not want to answer and it was alleged Dixon slapped Bruce, leaving the classroom, only to return a few minutes later and grab the older boy. The two began fighting and the girl said she was cut on the wrist while trying to stop the two boys, after which Dixon was heard yelling “Ouch!”

Attorney Ambay Ramkellawan prosecuted.

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