Aubrey Lopez’s accused killer set free; main witness, in tears, refused to testify because he had been threatened with death
Paul Jex, 26, the man accused of killing Belmopan mayor Simeon Lopez’s son, Aubrey Lopez, 30, almost four years ago, walked out of the Supreme Court in jubilation. Family members quickly embraced him, and wasted no time in steering him away from reporters and the court area, even as he was muttering, “I got to speak to my lawyers.”
Jex regained his freedom after a jury of five men and seven women deliberated for four hours and thirty-five minutes before returning into the courtroom of Supreme Court Justice Adolph Lucas at 8:44 p.m., announcing a not guilty verdict on the murder indictment.
Belmopan mayor Simeon Lopez, his wife and other family members who have been in daily attendance at the trial since its beginning on January 28, exited the courtroom moments after Jex and his family had left, and like Jex and his family, they avoided speaking to reporters.
On the night of May 12, 2010, Aubrey Lopez, a teacher at Edward P. Yorke High School and a local basketball icon, left his school compound in a blue Mitsubishi Galant car, and dropped off a woman friend on Armadillo Street around 9:00 p.m. She would never see him alive again.
At 11:20 p.m., police discovered the body of a man on Prince Street. They identified the body as being that of Aubrey Lopez from his social security card that was found in his pocket.
He had a bullet hole in the back of his head. The blue Mitsubishi he had been driving was nowhere in sight.
At the trial, 13 witnesses testified for the prosecution. They were mostly formal witnesses. But the main witness for the prosecution, which was conducted by Crown Counsel Kaysha Grant, turned out to be problematic from the second day of the trial.
The eyewitness, who initially had been detained during the murder investigation and who had given a statement to police, took the witness stand and told the court that he was unable to testify, “because of the threats I’m getting.”
In tears, he told the court that he had been warned not to testify at the trial, otherwise he would be killed.
His revelation tossed the trial into a series of voir dire, as the lead defense attorney, Tricia Pitts-Anderson, who was assisted by Bernard Q.A. Pitts, engaged the court in submissions on points of law relating to the witness’ fear of testifying and the statement he had given to police.
In the end, Justice Adolph Lucas ruled to accept the witness’ statement as part of the evidence for the prosecution’s case. Therefore, the witness was spared from testifying on the witness stand, from which he would have been subjected to cross-examination by Jex’s defense.
In the statement, the witness told police that on the night of the murder, around 10:00 p.m., he was standing in front of a yard next to Prince Street, talking to a young lady, when he saw a light blue car pull up and two men got out.
He recognized the accused, Paul Jex, whom he said he had known for more than a year and a half. He said that Jex walked out of the car, pulled out a handgun and fired a single shot. The witness said he was standing about fifteen feet away, talking to the young lady.
Jex, the witness told police, pushed the man he had just shot out of the car into the street.
Jex then shouted for him, the witness, who approached the car and got inside, where, he said, another man he knows as “Bobo Youth,” a man with dreadlocks, was seated in the back passenger seat. “Bobo Youth” was armed with a shotgun, the witness statement said.
“Bobo Youth”, according to the witness’s testimony, got into the driver’s seat and the car headed toward Yabra. When the car reached in front of Bismark Club, Jex and “Bobo Youth” opened fire. It is not clear from the witness’s statement who or what they were shooting at this time.
When the car reached in the vicinity of 88 Shop on Central American Boulevard and Neal Pen Road, they saw a white police vehicle and “Bobo Youth” drove the car at high speed, the witness said. The police set chase.
The car stopped on West Collet Canal Street, where the witness said he got out, jumped into the canal and hid under a small bridge, where police found him and took him into custody.
In a dock statement, Jex said in his defense that he was standing at the corner of Neal Pen Road when the blue Mitsubishi car pulled up and the driver, Tyrone Smith, offered him a ride. This was just before the police spotted the vehicle and began pursuing it, leading to a high speed chase down Central American Boulevard.
Police Constable Tun, who had followed the car, said that when the car came to a stop, he saw the four doors open simultaneously, and four men exited the car. Three of the men ran toward the bridge. “I saw another man coming out of the driver side. He ran toward the bridge and disappeared,” he said.
Tun said he took out his police-issued .9mm revolver and fired warning shots.
“I went to the car and saw a man sitting in the middle of the back seat. I took out my handcuffs and took him into custody,” Tun testified.
“I asked him his name and he told [me] it was Paul Jex,” Tun continued, “I saw a lot of red liquid (blood) inside the car.
Police recovered a .357 magnum revolver near the car. That firearm was also admitted into the evidence as an exhibit. But it was not established that the magnum revolver was the actual murder weapon.
Firearms Examiner, Orlando Vera, told the court in his testimony that there is no test to determine if the gun was recently fired.
In his summary of the evidence for the jury, Justice Lucas lamented that there was not enough scientific methods used by police investigators in cases of this nature, because we are a poor country.
Justice Lucas cautioned the jury to be careful about how extensively they relied on the statement of the eyewitness, who he said, had an interest to serve.
He (the witness) decided to give police a statement because he was detained, and the police might have decided to charge him, Justice Lucas told the jury.
“I need to remind you that there is no supporting evidence of the eyewitness. He is the only one who saw the shooting,” the judge said.
He told the jury that they could choose to rely on the statement of the eyewitness that he saw the accused shot Lopez – and if so, he said, “you may find the accused guilty.”
The judge added, though, that if they had a reasonable doubt, they were to let that doubt lead them to rule in favor of the accused and find him not guilty.