After hours of deliberations, directions, redirections and a lot of back and forth, a jury yesterday found Charles Anthony Woolford guilty of manslaughter in the killing of his beautician wife Latoya Conway-Woolford in 2009.
Although Woolford was charged with murder, the 12-member jury emerged around 4.30 pm yesterday with a verdict of guilty of manslaughter, shocking the accused and his family.
Woolford was on trial for the third time for the murder of his wife, who had been fatally stabbed at their home at Humming Bird Street, Festival City, North Ruimveldt on February 8, 2009. In March 2014, a jury had failed to arrive at a unanimous verdict in his first retrial, which led to Justice Navindra Singh ordering a second one.
In 2013, Justice James Bovell-Drakes had ordered a retrial after a jury had also failed to agree.
In the High Court yesterday Justice Brassington Reynolds spent an hour and a half summing up the evidence, before instructing the jurors to go into their chambers to deliberate on Woolford’s guilt or innocence.
Two hours later, the jury emerged and asked for further directions.
They wanted to know why the State had not provided any evidence as to why Woolford would have stabbed his wife. Justice Reynolds guided them by stating that the prosecution does not have to prove motive for murder.
“A motive is not a requirement in our jurisdiction… The State doesn’t even have to produce a murder weapon and it is not a failure if they don’t provide a weapon or motive,” he stated.
When the jury remained unsure, Justice Reynolds admonished them thus: “This is a real court. It is not television and I’m not Judge Judy!”
He instructed that they return to their chambers and give the case “mature consideration.”
One hour later, the jury returned and were divided as to what their decision was. This caused a slight uproar in the court from Woolford’s family. The foreman initially stated that they had found him not guilty of murder and not guilty of manslaughter and there was a joyful “Yes!” from Woolford’s aunt.
Woolford’s face relaxed into relief and he watched his family happily.
But his joy was short-lived as a few seconds later, some of the jurors began to whisper “guilty” among themselves, causing the foreman to change the verdict on manslaughter. Looking completely confused, the foreman turned to his fellow jurors and whispered something and some of them began to giggle while the others looked thoroughly dissatisfied.
Woolford shifted restlessly, the shackles on his feet clanking as he listened to the jury giggle and whisper among themselves. He glanced at his family.
“I don’t like what I’m hearing here,” Justice Reynolds said, before sending the jury back to their chambers for yet another time.
When they returned, the foreman announced that Woolford was guilty of manslaughter and their decision on this was 11-1.
Justice Reynolds then ordered that a probation report be prepared and set sentencing for June 30.
Woolford was swept away by police and prison officers, while his family thronged behind him, encouraging him to keep “faith”. Woolford simply nodded.
Conway-Woolford was stabbed during an argument, according to reports, as she was getting ready to go to a friend’s house to do her hair. Woolford had entered the room with his hands behind his back and asked her where she was going.
He then turned her around and stabbed her in her stomach in the presence of her 11-year-old daughter. Conway-Woolford managed to escape to the upper flat of the home, where relatives were staying, and was subsequently rushed to the hospital where she underwent surgery. She had run out of the house, hollering “Tony bore me!”
She succumbed to her injuries the following day.
In his unsworn statement before the court, Woolford had stated that he had returned home on the day in question and found his wife with a man called “Andy”. He stated that he had pushed his wife aside when he heard the man say, ‘I fed up hearing you name.’
He said that the man had lashed him behind his head and pulled out a knife and a fight started between them. He claimed that his wife intervened and was stabbed, but did not say by whom. He stated that “Andy” ran out of the house after his wife hollered that she had been stabbed.
His attorney Peter Hugh had argued that the trial was a “case of two stories; two versions of how one injury was inflicted.”
Conway-Woolford’s daughter had testified in the trial to seeing her stepfather turning her mother around and stabbing her in the stomach. Another witness, Conway-Woolford’s cousin, had also testified that she saw her cousin run out of the house holding her belly and screaming “Tony bore me!”
State attorneys Michael Shahoud and Mercedes Thompson presented the State’s case.