Since Belize became a drug transshipment point in the early 1980s, the biggest cocaine bust occurred in November 2010, when a twin-engine Beechcraft King Air 200 plane landed on the Southern Highway, near Bladden Village, loaded with a cargo of 5,704 pounds of compressed Columbian cocaine.
Five police officers and a civilian were charged in connection with the landing of the aircraft. When the case was presented in court two years later, they were all acquitted of the charge.
The office of the Director of Public Prosecutions appealed the acquittal of the accused men and today, after hearing submissions, the Court of Appeal quashed the acquittal and ordered a new trial.
The court stipulated that the case cannot be heard by Supreme Court Justice Dennis Hannomansingh, who acquitted the men when he upheld a no-case-to-answer submission at the trial in the Southern Session of the Supreme Court in December 2012.
Police Corporal Nelson Middleton, Corporal Renel Grant, Sergeant Jacinto Roches, Sergeant Lawrence Humes, Customs boatman Harold Usher, and civilian Victor Logan will have to face a new trial for the offense of abetment to commit a crime, that is, the facilitating of the landing of the drug plane.
At the appeal, the men were represented by attorneys Simeon Sampson, SC; Hubert Elrington, SC; and Anthony Sylvestre.
The attorneys argued that the judge, in accepting the no-case submission, properly exercised his discretion in the matter, and that the circumstantial evidence that the Crown was relying on would not have secured a conviction, if the case had gone to the jury.
Director of Public Prosecutions, Cheryl-Lynn Vidal, the appellate, argued that the Crown’s case was frustrated because the judge in the case did not allow the prosecutor, Senior Crown Counsel Cecil Ramirez, to present all the evidence against the accused men. The judge erred in law, Vidal submitted.
The panel of three judges, Appeal Court president Manuel Sosa, and Appeal Justices Samuel Awich and Dennis Morrison, ruled that the acquittal be set aside and a re-trial ordered on the charge of abetment to commit a crime. The court will issue its reasons for the ruling at a later date.
After the court’s ruling, Sampson told reporters, “It is not the end of the day; justice has been done, and we fought like hell. The law had been expounded; all attorneys for the prosecution and the defense did what we had to do. All of us are wiser now, especially when the Court of Appeal would have handed down a decision because right now, we don’t know what they accept or what they didn’t accept, and what is the reason for their decision. When we have received the written decision, then we would be able to educate ourselves thereby. But I am not at all disappointed.”
Elrington said, “I am kind of disappointed, but we still hope that at the re-trial, we will get an acquittal.”