Trapp was shot and killed in historic fashion at the steps of the courthouse
Today, Nicoli Rhys, 22, was found not guilty by Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin for the murder of Andre Trapp, the reputed leader of the South Side Gang.
Readers will recall that the gang boss had been shot and killed, of all places, on the steps of the courthouse in Belize City.
At 10:00 a.m. on June 10, 2010, Trapp had just left the Magistrate’s Court and was speaking with an old classmate. After their conversation, Trapp was walking toward his vehicle when gunshots rang out in the parking lot of the court. After everything settled, Trapp lay dead on the side of the steps leading to Courtrooms 1 and 2.
In the trial which started on January 29, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Cheryl-Lynn Vidal, in her opening statement, informed the court that her case against the accused was based on circumstantial evidence.
She also made reference to an oral confession allegedly made by Rhys to an officer who responded to the shooting.
One of the witnesses who testified in the trial was the old classmate of Trapp’s, with whom he had been speaking. He testified that after speaking with Trapp, he walked toward his vehicle and Trapp walked toward his own. As he got into his vehicle and was about to reverse, he heard what sounded like gunshots, about 3 or 4 of them, and when he looked forward toward the Magistrate’s Court, he saw Trapp running toward Regent Street.
He further testified that as Trapp reached the pavement in front of the court, he collapsed to the ground, holding his chest. The witness then testified that after Trapp fell to the ground, he saw an officer in uniform near his car fire shots at a single-cab green Ford Ranger.
That officer was PC #187 Alrick Arnold, who, at the time of the shooting, was escorting a prisoner from the Family Court back to Magistrate’s Court.
According to his testimony, as he approached the corner of Regent and Bishop Streets, he heard gunshots. He hurriedly secured his prisoner and took out his licensed gun and fired several shots at the Ford pickup. He said that two persons exited the pickup, but he was only able to see the left side and face of the person in the passenger side.
He testified that he saw the person’s face for 2 to 3 seconds as the person exited the pickup and ran toward the Southern Foreshore. According to PC Arnold, that same person was seen being escorted on foot by another officer some minutes later, where he was able to get a 2- to 3-minute look at his face.
The alleged oral confession that the DPP was building her case on came in the testimony from Special Constable Charles Usher. In his testimony, Usher told the court that when he responded to a call about a shooting at the court, he went to the compound of Bowen and Bowen on King Street. As he arrived there, he was pointed to an area in the back, where he and two other officers eventually found Rhys hiding in a crouching position under the verandah of a house.
Usher told the court he then told Rhys “Yoh just shoot di man. Weh di gun deh?”
To this, according to Usher, Rhys told him that “Buju got it.”
That was the alleged confession, the ace card that the DPP appeared to have been holding. But in a voir dire that was held during the trial, the CJ deemed it inadmissible because Usher failed to caution Rhys before questioning him.
When asked why he didn’t caution Rhys, Usher replied that he was concerned with his safety and wanted to make sure that Rhys didn’t still have a gun.
Several other witnesses were called to testify in the trial, including the Scenes of Crime technician, Brian Lopez; the arresting officer, Manuel Espat; and Dr. Mario Estradabran, the forensic pathologist.
Rhys’ attorney, Simeon Sampson, asked the CJ to treat the identification of Rhys by PC Arnold as a “fleeting glance” especially since, according to Arnold, he had never seen Rhys before until that day.
When Arnold was questioned why an identification parade was not conducted with Rhys, Arnold replied that he was not asked to participate in one, and the investigating officer didn’t feel the need for it.
In his decision today, the CJ said that the first identification of Rhys by Arnold would, indeed, be classified as a fleeting glance, and since it was just a fleeting glance, the second identification could not bolster the first.
And there is where the case came apart! The identification was not allowed and formed some kind of reasonable doubt in the mind of the CJ. So, at 11:30 a.m., today, Friday, Rhys was found not guilty by the Chief Justice himself. He was free to leave the court with his mother, sister and aunt by his side.