Highlights — 04 June 2013 — by Rochelle Gillett
Bribery charges against Pamela Garnett and son, Mark Vernon, dismissed

The main witness for the murder case fled to the US

Garnett and Vernon were charged with attempting to suppress evidence after allegedly unsuccessfully trying to bribe, then threatening, a crucial witness in a murder case

On December 27, 2012, charges were levied against Pamela Garnett, 42, and her son Mark Vernon, 24, after police claimed that they allegedly tried to bribe a crucial witness in a murder case in which Garnett’s husband, Jermaine “Horse” Garnett, 30, and another of her sons, Cassian Bennett, were implicated.

The murder was that of Raheem Requeña, 19, which occurred on December 19, 2012. Requeña was shot as many as eight times as he was riding his bicycle on Kut Avenue that night. After investigating the matter, police arrested and charged Jermaine Garnett, along with Pamela Garnett’s son, Cassian Bennett, aka Cassian Gentle, and Kenneth Barrow.

The charge against Pamela Garnett and her other son, Mark Vernon, arose after Marie Alvarez, the crucial witness for the Crown, made a report to the police. In that report, she told police that on December 23, 2012, Pamela Garnett called her on her phone and offered to pay her $5,000 to retract her statement.

But after the witness refused the offer, Garnett allegedly gave the phone to her son, Mark, who then threatened her.

On December 25, 2012, Alvarez was again contacted by Garnett, who told her that a $20,000 hit had been placed on her head and that after she was killed, Garnett’s son would walk free from his charges.

When they appeared for their arraignment, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Cheryl-Lynn Vidal, objected to bail on the grounds of: (1) the seriousness of the offense; (2) great concern for the person on her side of law enforcement; (3) the fact that the evidence she was attempting to suppress involved men who are charged with murder; and (4) the likelihood that, if offered bail, Pamela Garnett may continue to interfere with the complainant.

After contemplating the argument put forward, the magistrate denied bail and both Garnett and her son were remanded to prison until January 11, 2013, when the trial was scheduled to start.

However, according to the DPP, Garnett was granted bail on January 7, 2013, and after learning this, Alvarez, fearing for her life, migrated to the United States.

The trial started on January 11, 2013, as was ordered, but after several attempts were made to get Alvarez to return to Belize to testify, the case was dismissed today by the Chief Magistrate.

In a release sent out by the DPP, she stated, “I met with the witness, Ms. Alvarez and she indicated her intention to testify. On the 7th of January 2013, Pamela Bennett Garnett was offered bail by the Supreme Court. Shortly thereafter, the witness fled the jurisdiction. Police were made aware of this on the very 11th, as she was detained at the US Border (not for illegal entry) and had indicated to officers there that her life was in danger and so she had left Belize.”

The DPP went on to explain that the prosecution “was compelled by the circumstances to commence the trial on the 11th of January.” But, she went on to state, “the position was uncertain in relation to the witness and so an adjournment was sought after the first witness had testified. The witness has not yet been returned to the jurisdiction.”

“The matter was eventually set for today. The prosecution sought a further adjournment given the absence of the witness on the ground that the charges against the defendants are serious, that the matter itself is just 5 months old and the trial had already started, that both defendants are on bail and that a likely time of return of the witness had now been provided,” the DPP summarized.

The DPP then went on to state that the adjournment they requested was refused, and the prosecution was unable to tender Alvarez’ statement, because the police had not recorded Alvarez’ statement “in the presence of a justice of the peace or a magistrate, which is a prerequisite for the admission of a statement in the absence of a witness or where a witness is too afraid the testify, under the Evidence Act.” The case was thus dismissed against both defendants, she said.

The release further made reference to the perceived judgment of failure in the justice system due in part to the alleged intimidation of witnesses, and noted, “We have long made recommendations to amend the Evidence Act to allow for witnesses to be able to give evidence by way of video link, in criminal trials…Such a provision would have seen a different result in this case (as would, of course, a more prudent approach by the police in recording the statement) and in many other cases.”

Although the charges against Pamela Garnett and her son Mark Vernon have been dismissed, Jermaine Garnett, Cassian Bennett and Kenneth Barrow are still remanded for Requeña’s murder.

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