General — 13 July 2019 — by A news analysis by Rowland A. Parks
Mason’s beheading murder trial resumes in voir dire

Reporters weren’t allowed in the courtroom, and police obstructed media cameras

BELMOPAN, Tues. July 9, 2019– The most sensational murder trial in recent times is taking place in the April Session of the Belmopan Supreme Court. It is the trial of William “Danny” Mason, who, along with four other accused men, has been indicted for the beheading murder of Dangriga pastor Llewellyn Lucas. After the necessary adjournment so that the accused men, including Mason, could get legal representation, the trial resumed today, Tuesday.Almost all major media houses dispatched reporters to Belmopan to cover the trial, which was delayed this morning because of a power outage (blackout), so it was rescheduled to start at 1:00 p.m.

Some reporters who were already seated in the courtroom were told by court police to leave, because they were not allowed to sit in on the trial, which was set to resume in a voir dire.

Voir dire is a French phrase (derived from a Latin term) that actually means “to speak the truth”, but is also interpreted by many as “to see to hear.” In its legal context, it is a device that is associated with jury trials and is often used to determine if a juror is prejudiced, or likely to be prejudiced, against an accused.

In our jurisdiction, the term voir dire is often referred to as “a trial within a trial.” This simply means that any questioning of a witness is done away from the jury, so that the rights of an accused person are not prejudiced during the questioning of expert witnesses.

The media and other members of the public who “listen in” on the trial are also normally excluded from a voir dire.

Justice Antoinette Moore is hearing the evidence in the case, and is sitting without a jury, in accordance with the amendments to the necessary laws.

Upon exiting the courtroom, none of the attorneys whom we asked for a comment would make any remarks on what transpired in court. Mason’s attorney would only say that “it went well today,” and that he would give an interview “tomorrow.”

Not only were reporters locked out of the hearing, but camera crews continue to be frustrated and are unable to get footage of the accused entering and leaving the court due to a massive show of force from police escorts who pulled up their van right at the very entrance to the court building, allowing very limited space for cameras to operate.

Decked out in their paramilitary uniforms and armed to the teeth with semi-automatic rifles, the police officers appeared to be protecting Mason from the press. One would think that with the Belmopan Police Station being so close to the court building, the accused men would have been allowed to walk with their escort to court. That did not happen. They were driven to court in a van, obviously to frustrate the media.

The return to the Belize Central Prison was similarly a spectacle of police excess, as a police vehicle with beacon flashing and sirens blaring drove ahead of the van carrying the accused men.

Is this high-profile escort and protection from the media for men who are accused of beheading an unarmed pastor, necessary? Isn’t it just a waste of time and resources? It makes critics wonder who is paying the police – taxpayers, or Mason.

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Deshawn Swasey

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