Gun conviction thrown out

| 31/07/2013

(CNS): A 20-year-old man walked free from prison on Wednesday morning after the appeal court judges acquitted him on an unlawful firearms possession charge. Robert Aaron Crawford, from West Bay, had been sentenced to the mandatory ten years in jail in January, when he was found guilty by Justice Charles Quin following a judge-alone trial which took place in October last year. However, Crawford's defence attorney, Nick Hoffman, successfully argued that the judge had erred on a number of grounds and the conviction was not safe. The Court of Appeal agreed and found that the judge’s failure to deal with a number of discrepancies made his verdict unsafe, as they allowed the appeal, quashed the verdict and sentence, and found no reason for a retrial.

The crown’s case was that Crawford had handled it without gloves and with sufficient grip to throw it some 30 feet into the bushes across his body during a foot chase with a police officer along the side of the road. However, while there was DNA on the gun in question, some of which was a conclusive match with another local man known to the police, indicating the gun had not been wiped, there were no finger prints or any DNA belonging to Crawford on the weapon. 

The weapon was discovered shortly after Crawford had crashed the car he was driving on the Esterley Tibbetts Highway in the early hours of the morning in November 2011, as he was trying to escape a police pursuit. Following the smash, Crawford fled the car on foot and was reportedly seen throwing something into the bushes as he ran away. The cop eventually caught the suspect, who was arrested and taken to the police station.

Meanwhile, the cops began a search of the bushes and eventually, with the assistance of lighting and a metal detector, came across a Stock Luger pistol. Two pictures were taken at the crime scene some 40 minutes apart, and although all of the officers involved denied touching or moving the weapon before the scenes of crime officers arrived, the pictures tell a different story.

The first one, taken by an officer at the time of the find, shows the gun well underneath the vegetation. However, the second picture shows the weapon in what is clearly a different position above the vegetation and a bullet has appeared above the handle that was not in the first picture. The strange and clear differences were never explained at trial, as none of the officers involved could explain them, and all denied touching or moving the weapon or the bullet.

The Court of Appeal said these factors, combined with the fact that no further searches were made of the area once the Luger handgun was found, led to the conclusion that the verdict was unsafe. The judges noted that there could be no certainty that the weapon found in the bush was whatever Crawford was said to have thrown into them during the chase.

The appeal court judges found that the absence of Crawford’s DNA on the weapon, the unexplained change of position in the pictures and the fact that the officer who claimed he saw Crawford throw a gun after being been informed via hearsay that he could be armed, as well as the fact that Crawford was regarded as a local gang member by police, should have combined to make the judge cautious in the face of the significant but unexplained discrepancies.

The trial judge had fallen into the trap, the Court of Appeal found, of “speculating” about the science that sometimes people don’t leave their DNA behind, when there was no expert evidence to support that. If this matter had been before a jury, it would have been essential for the judge to direct them to take into account the fact that the DNA of someone else was on the weapon, the appeal panel observed.

“We are forced to the conclusion that the judge’s failure to deal adequately with those points his verdict is unsafe,” the president of the CICA added.

Related article on CNS:

Gangster guilty over gun

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