General — 01 March 2016 — by Rowland A. Parks
Court frees cop convicted of manslaughter

BELIZE CITY, Mon. Feb. 29, 2016–The Court of Appeal opened its first session for the year this morning and heard the first criminal appeal, that of Alpheus Parham v The Queen. Parham, a police special constable, was indicted for murder in the Supreme Court, but a jury of 6 men and 6 women had found him not guilty of murder but guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter in the death of Alex Goff, 31, who died from a gunshot to the forehead while he was detained in the Caye Caulker Police Station on May 9, 2010.

Following his manslaughter conviction last February, Parham was sentenced to 10 years in prison by Supreme Court Justice John Troadio Gonzalez. It is against that conviction and consequent sentence that Parham’s attorney, Simeon Sampson, SC, had filed his appeal.

As the hearing came to an end after almost two hours, the President of the Court, Hon. Mr. Justice Manuel Sosa, announced that the court was setting aside Parham’s conviction. Justice Sosa then told Parham that he was free to go home.

At today’s hearing, the Crown was represented by Director of Public Prosecutions, Cheryl-Lynn Vidal, who conceded that she did not support Parham’s conviction. Vidal’s concession that she did not support the conviction earned her high praise from Mr. Justice Murillo Ducill, who praised her as a “true Minister of Justice.”

At his Supreme Court trial, Parham, who had served the Police Department for 18 years, gave a dock statement explaining that he acted in self-defense and that he and the deceased man were involved in a struggle for his service weapon when the gun accidentally went off and shot Goff.

Goff was shot in the forehead and died instantly, his blood splattering the wall of the station’s holding cell.

That blood had splattered on the wall inside the cell was cause for lengthy analysis on the appeal’s bench. In the end Justice Sosa concluded that Dr. Mario Estradabran, the police pathologist who gave testimony about the blood splatter on the cell wall, “had intruded on the territory of the criminologist in discussing the blood splatter on the wall and the seated position of the deceased.”

In his grounds of appeal papers, Sampson stated that “the Crown conducted the prosecution as if this was a cold, senseless and unlawful assassination.”

“The appellant suffered a possible miscarriage of justice when the learned trial judge erred in law in his failure to properly direct the jury on the issue of self-defense.”

In his dock statement, Parham had said, “This is what I know of this incident. Put yourself in my shoes, where my life is in great danger. What would you do? I only acted in self-defense.”

Sampson, in his grounds of appeal’s skeleton argument, took the learned trial judge to task on his direction to the jury on self-defense and accident.

“The learned trial judge’s direction on self-defense and accident (in the context of the appellant’s dock statement) was not only unintelligible, but also impacted the burden of proof by using the expression ‘If you find,’ and ‘if you find that he intentionally killed Goff, and if you find that the deceased accidentally got shot…’”

Sampson’s other ground of appeal was that, “The appellant suffered a possible miscarriage of justice when the learned trial judge erred in law by not giving at least a modified good character direction when the first sentence of the appellant’s dock statement revealed that he had no previous conviction.”

Sampson said that the discourse between the judge and the doctor, followed by cross-examination by the defense, “seem to confuse instead of clarifying the central issue regarding the relative position between the shooter and the target at the material time.”

In the supplementary grounds that Sampson filed, he said that the learned trial judge erred in his definition of accident. “Thus, he did not give a clear exposition of the concept of accident, leaving the jury to interpret and apply their own definition to the plea of accident.”

The judge also introduced the concept of negligence in his direction to the jury, Sampson said.

“It is respectfully submitted that this direction, taken along with his prior legal definition of accident (an act which is not intentionally negligent or careless) is most prejudicial because the concept of negligence did not constitute any part of the defense and it could not be cured at such a late stage in the trial.”

“The total effect of all these misdirections has so contaminated the trial that the verdict of the jury is unreasonable or cannot be supported having regards to the evidence,” Sampson submitted.

One of the Appeal Justices on the panel asked if a retrial is considered, can the evidence get any better? The court’s president, Justice Sosa, said the director is saddled with the very same witnesses that testified at the trial.

DPP Vidal told the court that from the doctor’s evidence the jury could have concluded that it was a deliberate shooting. This was the actual evidence of the doctor. He (the deceased) was seated and stationary and the judge’s direction on self-defense was not in keeping with the established precedents.

Parham had spent five years on remand since he was charged with the murder. In total he has spent six years in prison.

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