Mason and 4 co-accused are accused of cutting off the head of popular Dangriga pastor Llewellyn Lucas
BELIZE CITY, Mon. July 22, 2019– After a long pause, the murder trial of William “Danny” Mason and his co-accused, namely, Ashton Vanegas, Keron Fernandez, Terrence Fernandez, and Ernest Castillo, resumed on Tuesday, July 8, in the Belmopan Supreme Court, where Justice Antoinette Moore is sitting without a jury.
The trial, however, immediately slipped into a voir dire, which continued until Friday, July 19, as defense attorneys and the Director of Public Prosecution, who is leading the evidence for the Crown’s case, grilled police witnesses over a caution statement given to police by Ernest Castillo. Castillo’s caution statement allegedly included an admission that he carried out the cruel murder of Pastor Llewellyn Lucas.
On Friday, July 19, Justice Moore ruled that the statement could not be admitted into the prosecution’s evidence in the case. The ruling can be seen as a blow to the case of the prosecution, which must now convince the judge without the aid of that particular caution statement.
Upon exiting the courtroom, attorney Bryan Neal, who is representing Keron Fernandez, remarked to News5’s Duane Moody, “The Police used force to extract the confession and that made the confession inadmissible, and so the confession will not form a part of this case.”
Neal, who is not representing Castillo, added, “It never did mean anything for my case, but I think it is significant for Miss Baja Shoman, who is representing Castillo; she was the person who really did all the work and she needs to be commended for the work that she did. And I think that now that it is not included in the case, it cannot be used as evidence against her client.”
Mason’s attorney, Dexter Todd, also weighed in on the conversation, saying that the statement also did not affect his client.
“There was no direct effect of that caution statement to my client. I believe the law is still trite on the issue that caution statement can only be used, allegedly, by the maker of that statement … it cannot affect any other person, only the maker. I believe the court has given very sound reasons why it would exclude that statement,” Todd said.
The trial moved to Belize City, today, Monday, July 22, when some of the witnesses were scheduled to testify via Skype. That, however, did not happen today, but the court heard the testimony of scenes of crime technician, Barry Montero, a 12-year veteran at the police’s Scenes of Crime section.
The entire day was taken up with Montero’s testimony on the witness stand and at the adjournment late this evening, defense attorneys had not yet finished with their cross- questioning of Montero, who returns to the witness stand when the hearing gets underway at 9:15 a.m. tomorrow.
Montero testified that when he went to Mason’s farm at Mile 31 on the George Price Highway, he observed that there were several white buckets, but what stood out was a bucket with white sand.
Montero described seeing several manmade ponds and a fire-dugout which was still smoking. Inside the fire dugout, Montero said that there were some burnt bones, and about 15 feet of a nearby tree had been burned.
Montero testified that he collected a few pieces of the burnt bones, which were later sent to Dr. Mario Estradabran, the police pathologist.
“I collected about four pieces of the burnt bones. There were other pieces in the burn-out pit, but I did not venture in because it was still hot,” Montero testified.
Montero told the court that he later returned to the ranch and this time, with the help of the fire service, removed the water from the pond.
Montero said he took some more bones from the burn-out pit which were later photographed, labeled, sealed and accompanied by a chain of custody form.
The remaining water in the pond was later removed by a Belmopan City Council sewer truck. A metal detector was used to search the bottom of the pond and a knife with a 7-inch blade and wooden handle was found.
The trial continues tomorrow, when defense attorneys will continue their cross- examination of Montero.
After the hearing, attorney Norman Rodriguez, who is defending Ashton Vanegas, spoke to reporters.
Rodriguez said that the Crown attempted to get in some of the forensic evidence today.
Rodriguez said that Barrington Montero is definitely one of the key witnesses. He added, “You will know that they still have the FBI evidence that Crown will also try to get in.”
Rodriguez was asked if he intends to challenge some of the evidence against his client.
Rodriguez replied, “Yes, I will challenge some of the evidence and attempt to discredit the witness, as we are supposed to do as defense attorneys, though the evidence that was given today will not affect my client.”
Attorney Bryan Neal, who is representing Keron Fernandez, also spoke to reporters.
Neal was asked if any of the evidence presented today affected his client.
Neal replied that in a sense some of the evidence affects his client, but there are some discrepancies in how the evidence was collected that he intends to challenge.
Neal explained that some swabs were taken from clothing and sent to the FBI in the United States and the Crown intends to lead evidence from experts in the United States, in relation to the swabs. Neal said more exhibits will be presented as the case goes forward.
Neal was asked if they are familiar with the evidence that was discussed and presented in court today.
Neal explained that the defense had just gotten another piece of evidence. “It seems that they are just giving us evidence after evidence. We are continuously getting more and more materials in this case,” he said.
Asked how he feels about that, Neal replied, “Shocking, very shocking. I thought they had done their investigation and are ready to go. I hope there is nothing else.”