BELIZE CITY, Wed. Sept. 13, 2018– Two men, Ernest “Dangalang” Thurton, Jr., 25, and Jasper Brannon, 28, were indicted for the October 25, 2012 double murder of Robert Young, 41, and Frank James, 35, which occurred at the dockyard on North Front Street, and at the conclusion of the trial today, Justice Adolph Lucas, who tried the case sitting without a jury, found Thurton guilty of the crimes.
Justice Lucas has deferred sentencing to October 8, when the court will hear from prison officials, and from character witnesses, if Thurton decides to bring any to speak on his behalf. Since life in prison for murder has been ruled to be unconstitutional, a fixed-time sentence will be handed down to Thurton, who is the first person to be convicted of a double murder since the evolution of the law.
The trial of the two accused men began on July 7, and when the Crown, represented by Senior Crown Counsel, Shanice Lovell, closed her case on August 1, attorney Leslie Hamilton made a no-case-to-answer submission on behalf of his client, Brannon.
Justice Lucas ruled to accept the no-case submission and Brannon was freed from the indictment, leaving only Thurton to await his fate.
A total of eight witnesses, including formal witnesses, were called to testify during the trial. The Crown relied on two key witnesses to prove its case.
Kurt Pech, the first of the two witnesses, is a resident of the dockyard. He testified that on the night of the murder, Young and James were at the dockyard cleaning fish to prepare a meal, when Thurton, Brannon, and another man, Eric Martinez (aka Junior H), came to the dockyard.
Pech testified that Martinez had a pistol in his hand and he made the two men, Young and James, kneel down.
Pech said that Martinez slapped Young with the gun and began to ask both men about a bicycle that was stolen that day from a woman named Dorothy Gideon.
According to Pech, Thurton took away the gun from Martinez, and at that time he (Pech) went into his house.
Pech testified that from inside his house he heard Martinez ask Thurton to not shoot the man.
Martinez told Thurton, “Boy, no shoot the man,” Pech told the court.
Thurton, however, allegedly fired about six shots in the direction of Robert Young.
Martinez, who is considered an accomplice witness, became adverse to the proceedings and had to be declared a hostile witness when he took the stand.
Martinez denied that he had given police a statement, which Justice Lucas had ruled to accept into the prosecution’s evidence. A portion of the statement that Justice Lucas felt was prejudicial to the accused was omitted from the evidence.
Martinez’s evidence (his statement) was similar to Pech’s evidence. In his statement to police, Martinez said he was “hanging out” with Thurton, whom he has known for a number of years, and with another man he only knew as Jasper. They were drinking stout.
Martinez told them that he had just seen the person who stole Miss Gideon’s bicycle earlier during the day. Martinez said he told them that he had seen the person going to the dockyard on North Front Street.
“So I told both Ernest [Thurton] and Jasper [Brannon] to let’s go to the dockyard…” Martinez said. Martinez said that he had a black 9mm in his hand, and Thurton took it from him and told both men (Young and James) to lie down on the ground, on their stomachs.
Martinez went on to explain in his statement to police that he had already reasoned with the person who had stolen the bicycle, and that he was going to get it back. “But Ernest [Thurton] just cock the gun and shot the man in his head,” he said.
Martinez said that after Thurton shot the alleged thief of the bike in his head, the other man got up off the ground and began to run, and “Ernest shot him also.”
Martinez said he left the area, and then he heard several more gunshots, and then he saw Thurton and Brannon run past him on North Front Street.
In his defense, Thurton testified that he was not at the murder scene, but was at his sister’s house. Thurton’s sister, Alicia Rancharan, testified on his behalf and corroborated his alibi. Justice Lucas, however, did not believe Thurton or his alibi witness.
Ernest Thurton was defended by attorney Anthony Sylvestre.