NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The Court of Appeal yesterday quashed the manslaughter conviction of Shawn Knowles, who was found guilty of killing three people, including a pregnant woman in July 2011.
In January 2016, Knowles and his co-accused Timothy Saunders were charged with the murders of Edward Braynen, Chackara Rahming, and Erica Ward, who was pregnant.
A day after the killings, Knowles was found with two Maverick guns and ammunition.
There were no eyewitnesses and the evidence against Knowles was his possession of the murder weapon.
There were no results from DNA testing or fingerprints taken at the scene linking the appellant to the murders.
The appellant’s co-accused gave a statement to the police implicating him, but the statement was not admissible evidence.
During the trial, the jury returned an eight to four guilty verdict for murder.
The trial judge advised that a murder conviction required a unanimous 12 to zero verdict.
The jury returned an eight to four guilty verdict for manslaughter.
Knowles was also charged with firearms possession.
He appealed all the convictions.
Justices of Appeal Sir Michael Barnett, Jon Isaacs and Milton Evans presided over the matter.
In the ruling, Sir Barnett said a jury is not entitled to consider an alternative verdict of manslaughter unless and until it found the appellant not guilty of murder.
He said the judge could not have accepted a verdict on the alternative offense of manslaughter as there was no proper verdict on the murder charge.
He said if the jury could not arrive at a true verdict on the charge of murder, it should have been discharged and a new trial ought to have taken place.
“Was that evidence which a jury properly directed could convict of either murder or manslaughter?” Sir Barnett wrote.
“In my judgment, the answer must be no.”
He continued: “No reasonable jury could without more be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the possession on the following day of one weapon from which bullets were fired at the scene of the murder meant that the person in possession of the gun was the person who committed the murder.
“It must be recalled that this was the evidence at the close of the prosecution’s case. The judge himself acknowledged that ‘it doesn’t always follow that the person who has a murder weapon in his possession committed a crime with it’.”
Sir Barnett said manslaughter should never have been given the jury as an alternative verdict in this case.
“With all due respect to the valiant efforts by counsel for the Crown, it is our judgment that notwithstanding the gravity of the offense of murder this is not a case which it is proper to order a retrial.
“To use the language in Reid ‘the evidence adduced at the trial was insufficient to justify a conviction by a reasonable jury even if properly directed. It is not in the interests of justice as administered under the common law system of criminal procedure that the prosecution should be given another chance to cure evidential deficiencies in its case against the accused.’
“On the evidence presented at the trial, four jurors were not satisfied that the evidence lead showed that the appellant committed the homicides.
“This court is concerned that the other members of the jury may have unconsciously been influenced by the material in the statement of Saunders to the police implicating the appellant, notwithstanding the direction by the judge that the statement was not evidence against the appellant.”
As it relates to the appeal of the firearm conviction, the appellate court allowed the appeal and quashed the conviction and sentence.
It said the issue of a retrial did not arise as at the time of the hearing Knowles had already served the three-year sentences imposed by the court.
The court also dismissed the appeal by the Crown against the sentence imposed.