A three-member Jamaican court of appeals panel has upheld reggae dancehall recording artist Vybz Kartel’s 2014 murder conviction. The Kingston court released a 235-page opinion Friday (April 3) detailing its reasoning in dismissing the appeals of Kartel and his co-defendants, Shawn Campbell, Kahira Jones and Andre St. John, and in affirming their convictions.
Because of the ban of public gatherings in light of the coronavirus pandemic, the hearing was held via teleconference. The court is still considering the length of Kartel and the other co-defendants' sentences in light of the time they have already spent in jail.
Kartel (real name: Adidja Azim Palmer), Campbell (known as Shawn Storm), Jones and St. John (known as Mad Suss) were charged in 2011 with the murder in Jamaica of Clive “Lizard” Williams. Williams' body was never found.
According to court papers, the case against them was based on a combination of direct and circumstantial evidence. The prosecution’s witness provided evidence that he, along with the deceased, had been given two unlicensed firearms by Kartel. When they were unable to account for the firearms, they were summoned to Kartel’s house and questioned. The prosecution’s witness said he was able to hide in a room in Kartel’s house, and when he emerged, his friend was lying motionless on the ground trying to speak. All defendants maintained their innocence. Kartel denied seeing the deceased at his house, telling police he only met him once at a stage show.
After a 64-day trial, all three were found guilty of murder and sentenced to jail for “life at hard labour.” Specifically, the court sentenced Campbell and Jones to a minimum of 25 years in prison before becoming eligible for parole and Kartel and St. John to serve a minimum of 35 years and 30 years, respectively.
Kartel and the other three defendants appealed their convictions in 2017, citing, among other things, the prosecution's reliance on a sole eyewitness; the trial judge’s mismanagement of various issues concerning the jury; the impact of publicity on the fairness of the trial; and whether the sentences imposed were manifestly excessive.
Ultimately, the appeals court judges decided that, despite the absence of a body, the jury considered the prosecution's evidence of an orchestrated plan along with the technology evidence and witness testimony in making its guilty finding. In addition, appellate judges found that publicity did not prevent defendants from obtaining a fair trial.
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