Court hearing ex-soldier’s appeal of conviction, sentencing over killing of fellow rank

Seeking to overturn his conviction and four-year sentence for manslaughter, a former soldier is arguing that many errors were made by the trial judge, causing him to suffer a miscarriage of justice.

This is among the arguments being made in the appeal by Mark Fraser over his decade-old conviction for the 2006 killing of Oneal Rollins.

The former soldier has, however, never spent a day behind bars since being found guilty of the crime on November 14th, 2007 as he had been granted bail pending his appeal, which was filed on December 14th, 2007.

State counsel Teshanna James-Lake is, however, arguing that neither the sentence nor conviction were bad in law and that there was no miscarriage of justice. As a matter of fact, she noted that the sentence of four years was a lenient one.

Had he gone to prison, Fraser would by now have completed his sentence.

At a hearing on Monday before acting Chancellor Yonette Cummings-Edwards, and Justices of Appeal Dawn Gregory and Rishi Persaud, attorneys on both sides indicated that they were relying on submissions previously laid over to the Appeal Court.

The Chancellor thereafter announced that the matter would be adjourned until April 8th for reports on any clarifications the court may need, while noting that if there is no need for clarifications, then the ruling on Fraser’s appeal will be delivered.

The Court of Appeal has the power to affirm, reduce or increase the sentence. It also has the jurisdiction to order a retrial, if it so finds as being necessary.

Fraser was convicted by a jury on the lesser offence of manslaughter. His sentence was imposed on November 30th, 2007.

Fraser (the appellant) is being represented by attorney Kamal Ramkarran.

Rollins, also a soldier, was killed at a Buxton, East Coast army base camp.

During the High Court trial before Justice Winston Patterson, the defence had argued that it was a case of accidental shooting.

The state’s contention, however, was that Fraser acted recklessly, resulting in Rollins’ death.

Evidence presented at trial indicated that on the day in question, Fraser was going out on patrol duty and went to uplift his gun. While in the process of doing so, he came into contact with Rollins.

Among other things, Fraser is contending that Justice Patterson erred in law in finding that Sergeant Eon Jackson, a ballistics expert, gave evidence at the preliminary inquiry (PI), despite the absence of his evidence and name as witness in the deposition of evidence taken at the PI.

According to the appellant, the trial judge made an error in admitting the evidence of Jackson without a good explanation from the prosecutor as to why this evidence had not been led.

Fraser is of the view that Justice Patterson erred by failing to direct the jury, or to properly direct it that Jackson’s evidence, “especially his assertion that the trigger of an AK-47 rifle could not be pulled by accident, because to pull the said trigger would be like attaching a five-pound weight to one’s finger need not have been accepted simply because he was an expert in the field of ballistics.”

Fraser also contends that the judge erred by failing to adequately analyse the caution statement he allegedly made, and the evidence led by the prosecution, against a statement he made from the dock in order to adequately guide the jury in making a decision on the reliability of the caution statement “insofar as there were inconsistencies between the caution statement and the dock statement.”

According to the appellant, the judge also erred when he failed to direct the jury on the application of the law relating to gross negligence manslaughter and the defence of accident which he raised.

Advancing a case of bias against him, Fraser said that Justice Patterson erred by failing to undertake a proper investigation of a real possibility of bias of a juror who police at the Georgetown High Court outpost said was seen talking to a witness for the prosecution, who was a relative of the deceased. The appellant questioned whether the other members of the jury had in any way been compromised.

Fraser is of the view that the verdict should be set aside for being unreasonable. According to him, it “cannot be supported having regard to the evidence.”

He is contending that the acts and omissions of the trial judge coupled with incorrect decisions of law, cumulatively constituted a miscarriage of justice in the conviction and sentence.

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