Kidnappers claim duress

| 16/03/2011

(CNS): The two men on trial accused of kidnapping Tyson Tatum for ransom last March have admitted they were involved in the plot but said they did so under duress. During the judge alone trial, which is expected to conclude Wednesday, Charles Webster and Allen Kelly said that they had taken part because they were threatened by Wespie Mullings. Webster says he was lured from Honduras by Mullings, who he said was an old friend, to do some constructionwork, while Kelly says he believed he was going to work on a boat when he was taken to a meeting to plot the kidnapping. They claim that when they told Mullings they wanted no part in the crime, he produced a gun, threatening to kill them if they tried to pull out of the scheme.

They also each claim to have received threatening messages after their arrests against them and their families, which they believed came from Richard Hurlstone, who was also charged with the crime but who absconded while on bail.

However, in her closing statement Solicitor General Cheryl Richards QC said that the claim of duress by the defendants came very late in the day after their arrests and neither of the men had revealed the claimed threats when they gave their first statements to the police or mentioned anything about the gun they claimed Mullings, who has already pleaded guilty to the crime, had.

She pointed out that, despite having ample opportunity to pull out of the plan and take evasive action, neither man did because, she said, they were willing participants motivated by money.

The bungled kidnapping plot eventually fell apart when their victim, whom they left alone in the house where he was being held, escaped, but not before the four men accused of the crime had abducted, assaulted and robbed Tatum.

The men had then contacted Tatum’s mother and demanded $500,000 otherwise they would kill him and warned her not to go to the police as they had connections in the RCIPS. However, Angelica Tatum did contact the police after the first call she received from her son saying he had been kidnapped. As a result law enforcement officers were able to record further ransom demand calls, which were produced as evidence during the first days of the trial.

As Richards closed the crown’s case on Tuesday afternoon, she said she believed the crown had proved the six counts against the defendants and that the evidence showed that the men had taken part in the joint criminal enterprise willingly. She said Wespie Mullings, who has pleaded guilty to the crime, never had a gun and the claims by Kelly and Webster were not credible. The crown’s leading advocate pointed out that no one else saw a gun during the episode and the weapon, according to the defendants, was only ever produce when they were alone with Mullings.

She queried why it had taken the three men — Kelly, Mullings and Webster — over five minutes of physical assault to subdue their kidnap victim and get him bound and gagged if Mullings all along had a gun. She pointed out how Kelly claimed Mullings had threatened him with the gun only minutes before Webster arrived at the house with the victim, who believed at the time he was coming to repair wave runners.

Richards pointed out that it was difficult to believe that, as Webster pushed Tatum into the house and all three men began wrestling him to the ground, Mullings would have hidden the gun away and not used it to threaten the victim, as surely that would have ensured the victim’s compliance with the kidnappers wishes far more quickly.

At the start of the trial when Tyson Tatum gave his evidence to the court he revealed that during the evening and the night when he was being held by the men at a house in North Side, he had was tied up on a bed but sat around talking and smoking ganja with Mullings and Webster until around 11pm. Richards said this was not behaviour consistent with men carrying out the crime under duress.

“The crown submits that the defence of duress has to be rejected on the evidence,” Richards told the judge as she summed up her case against the two defendants. The late claims that they did it because Mullings had threatened them and they were in fear of their lives was “inconsistent and incredible” as the numerous calls both men made to Wespie after the criminal scheme went wrong do not show the actions of men who were afraid for their lives.

Richards statedthat the men had countless opportunities to get away, go to the police or take some form of evasive action during the several days of planning and then during the kidnapping itself, which lasted over a two day period.

She also referred to other people who were at the early planning meetings who had given evidence during the trial that were asked to take part in the criminal scheme but had evaded involvement by simply not taking calls from Mullings or Hurlstone, whom the crown have claimed was the mastermind behind the crime but is now believed to be in Honduras.

Both defence attorneys were expected to make their closing arguments on Thursday morning before Judge Harrison, who is expected to deliver his verdict towards the end of the month. The men are both facing six counts relating to the incident, which include kidnapping, assault, robbery, blackmail, unlawful confinement and threatening violence.

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