General — 15 March 2012 — by Aaron Humes
Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin today concluded the first criminal trial without jury in Belize’s legal history with the conviction of Akeem Thurton, 20, for the attempted murder of Rodwell Williams, Senior Counsel, 54, on May 31, 2010.
Williams was shot once in the abdomen as he was walking toward the parking lot across from the former offices of Barrow and Williams (his law firm partnership with Prime Minister, Dean Barrow) at #99 Albert Street around 8:00 in the evening.
Thurton was charged along with the late Ricky Valencia, 28, who was killed on February 22 while waiting for the trial to resume (it had been postponed from its original start date of February 6 after time was given to Thurton to attempt to find legal representation, which he was unable to do).
At the start of the trial, Williams had testified as to what he saw and felt on the night of May 31, which caused him much loss of blood and necessitated his being flown out of the country to the United States for extended medical treatment.
He and the security guard were approached by two men on bicycles who stopped 12 feet away. One of them, allegedly Valencia, threw down his bike and began to confront the guard, while Thurton pulled out a gun, aimed it at Williams and told him, “Why yuh noh gi di man weh ih wan,” without specifying to whom he was referring.
After Williams told him he did not have what they wanted, a shot was fired, which caught Williams in the abdomen.
When the prosecutor, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Cheryl Lynn Vidal, asked Williams if the man whom he identified in an identification parade in September of 2010 as his shooter was in the courtroom, Williams pointed out Thurton in the witness box, again prompting the accused to deny his involvement, and Williams to then insist that it was Thurton he saw, clearly and in good lighting conditions, pointing the gun that night and firing at him.
The prosecution also relied on a caution statement admitted as evidence in which Thurton told police that the “mission” was the late Valencia’s idea and plan, that he was only following orders, and that it was Valencia, after they lay in wait for about an hour outside the office, who shot Williams while he, Thurton, searched the guard. Thurton claimed in court that he was “forced” to give that statement, but it was nonetheless admitted.
The court also heard from Dr. Jose Munguia, who performed five surgeries on Williams as he fought for his life, and testified that the extensive injuries Williams received as a result were life-threatening and could have been fatal if there was a delay in treatment.
A total of 11 witnesses were called, and the case was closed last Tuesday, March 6.
C.J. Benjamin then instructed Thurton about his right to a defense. Thurton could remain silent, speak from the dock without being cross-examined, or speak from the witness stand, from where he could be cross-examined.
Thurton had initially said he would remain silent, but then changed his mind and said from the dock that he did not shoot anyone: “I am a sportsman, I am a fisherman; I did not shoot anybody. This is coming from my heart, My Lord.”
He called his mother, Lorraine Thurton, as a witness; while she said she did not see her son shoot anyone, on cross-examination, she admitted to not having been on the scene of the incident that Monday night.
The case was then adjourned for Thursday, March 8, when the C.J. heard one last time from Thurton in closing his case. Thurton once again reiterated his innocence.
Today, the Chief Justice summed up the evidence of both the prosecution and defense. Having considered both the strength and weakness of the prosecution’s case, he said he found that the prosecution had proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt, having placed Thurton on the scene on the night in question.
He added that while Thurton did not have to prove anything to the court, he found that his simple denial of the charge was not believable, and so found him guilty as charged.
The Chief Justice has adjourned the matter until March 30, 2012, for sentencing, pending the completion of a social inquiry report on Thurton.
But asked prior to the date being set what he had to say to prevent the Chief Justice from sentencing him at that point, Thurton once more maintained that he had nothing to do with the shooting.