Missing machete turns up

| 14/07/2009

(CNS): The integrity of evidence and the chain of custody in police hands was brought into question yesterday when a previously missing machete appeared in the court room as an exhibit during the trial in which William Martinez-McLaughlin is facing the charge of murder. At the start of the second week of the trial the jury heard that a machete found at the home of Jason Hinds, the Crown’s principal witness and the man said to be with McLaughlin on the night of the murder, had seemingly being ignored or disappeared during the investigation.

During last week’s proceedings in Cayman’s Grand Court Martinez-McLaughlin’s lead counsel Mark Tomassi had questioned a number of witnesses about what had happened to a machete which had reportedly been found at the home of Jason Hinds the day after the body of Brian Rankine had been found brutally murdered on the night of 16 May 2008, and asked where it was now. Despite calling for it, the machete was not among the exhibit evidence brought to the court for the trial.

During the hearing yesterday, however, the machete appeared without explanation. A police witness confirmed that Hinds was a suspect in the case at the time the machete in question was discovered at his home and had admitted to being at the scene of the crime – a crime which police believed had been committed with some sort of large blade such as a machete or a cutlass.

Yet it appeared from the evidence label that the black handled machete discovered at Midnight Road (the home of Jason Hinds) on 17 May 2008 at 6:25pm was bagged into evidence but never touched again until 10 July 2009 – last Friday, four days into the trial — when a second entry was made on the label’s evidence custody record. Attached to the evidence bag, the court was told, was an undated post-it note which stated, “Examined by Scenes of Crime Officers — no evidence of blood.”

When Sgt Ronald Francis took the stand, hetold the court how the machete was found in Hinds’ apartment but he had considered from its appearance, as it looked old and had no blood on it, that it probably was not important. However, he said his superior officer, Joseph Burton, had still collected the machete and placed it into custody along with a number of other items, including a knife in a sheath, as well as personal items and the clothes which Hinds had confessed to burying in his yard. Francis said all of these items were taken from the suspect’s home to George Town police station, where they were placed in a room for preliminary examination by scenes of crime officers (SOCOs).

During the defence’s earlier cross examination of the Crown’s SOCO witnesses, both of whom were said to be present during this preliminary examination, the officers had testified that they could not recall seeing a machete during the processing of the crime’s potential evidence.  Both SOCOs involved in the processing of the evidence for this case told the court that they would not have determined whether or not a machete shown to them could have blood on it as they said it would not necessarily be possible to make that determination with the naked eye.

The jury heard Tomassi put those denials to Sgt Francis but he insisted that the machete, which was shown to him by the leading officer on the search, was brought to George Town police station and placed with all the other items for examination. He said the machete had earth and dirt on it but he did not think it was an important piece of evidence from its visible state as it did not look as though it had been used for a while.

Tomassi then asked Sgt Francis if he was present when Hinds was taken to the various scenes, including his own home, where he had said items connected to the crime were disposed of on the night of the murder. Sgt Francis told the court that he was. Tomassi asked Sgt Francis when he and others had accompanied Hinds to High Rock in East End, and Francis said he believed it was the Monday following the crime.

When Tomassi asked Sgt Francis if Hinds had ceased to be a suspect at that point, Hinds said, “He was always a suspect. I don’t know of him stopping being a suspect.” Clarifying his answer, Tomassi asked Sgt Francis again if Hinds was still a murder suspect on that day.

“To date, he is still a suspect for me,” said Sgt Francis. “As for my knowledge he is still a suspect in this murder.” Francis went on to say that, from all indication, Hinds was present at the time of the murder.

Tomassi then questioned Sgt. Francis about video tape which was taken during the visits to the various scenes, in which Hinds pointed out the places where he alleges McLaughlin disposed of various items in connection with the crime. Sgt. Francis confirm that tape had been taken, and when Tomassi asked where it was, Sgt Francis said he did not know and that the person who made the tape would be able to answer the question, but he said that all of the searches with Hinds were videoed.

On re-examination, the Crown established that Sgt Francis had moved off this case after the visits from the scenes and therefore was not cognisant of how the evidence and events had ultimately unfolded.

The trial continues today with more police and expert witnesses.

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  1. Nicky Watson says:

    We won’t be posting any comments on the court proceedings or any of the witnesses for the duration of the trial.