Crown urges jurors to convict based on clear evidence of corruption
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The lead defense attorney in the bribery trial of former Minister of Labour Shane Gibson yesterday told the nine-member jury that an “injustice to anyone is an injustice to all” as he called on them to hand down a verdict that would set Gibson free from the “conspiracy and wickedness” perpetrated again him.
“You should have Shane Gibson come out of here saying free at last,” said lead defense lawyer Keith Knight, QC.
Knight and lead prosecutor James Guthrie, QC, made their closing arguments to jurors in the Supreme Court before Justice Carolita Bethel.
Gibson, 58, has been accused of 15 counts of bribery over allegations that he abused his position as head of the National Recovery and Reconstruction Unit (NRRU) in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.
The prosecution’s key witness, contractor Jonathan Ash, alleges he paid Gibson’s associate Deborah Bastian more than $250,000 on the minister’s behalf to speed up payments owed to him — $1 million — by the government for cleanup work post-Matthew.
While Knight implored jurors to not to allow an innocent man to be set up and hauled off to the Department of Corrections, Guthrie called on the jury to closely examine the evidence, which he said consistently proves Gibson acted corruptly for personal gain.
In closing, Knight recalled to jurors that investigator Assistant Superintendent Deborah Thompson held a joint meeting with Ash, Bastian and their respective attorneys to clear up ambiguities in their sworn testimony on September 25, 2017.
He said as a result of the meeting, a change was made to Ash’s statement, though the date of the statement remained June 28, 2017, when Ash made his original statement to police.
He argued this was evidence of a conspiracy.
Knight also said it was as though authorities gave Ash “cuckoo soup and ‘kapunkle’ him right up”.
He noted that the commissioner of police and director of public prosecutions were both aware of the joint meeting Thompson had with the prospective witnesses — an act he referred to as misconduct, and deliberate wickedness against his client.
On the witness stand under cross examination, Thompson admitted that in hindsight it was wrong to have interviewed the prospective witnesses together, something she said was commonplace.
Knight questioned how many people were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to prison as a result of the practiced employed by police as described by Thompson.
Looking around the court room and toward Gibson, Knight asked why Bastian, who allegedly received payments from Ash, was not put on the stand so jurors could hear her version of events and decide for themselves who was telling the truth.
He also asked why Bastian was not in the courtroom dock with Gibson given the testimony heard in court. Bastian was granted immunity.
“You believe it? Where is she to tell you she gave anybody money? Where is she to tell you, I got money? They want you to believe Bastian got money and then they want you to believe that Bastian gave money to Gibson,” said Knight, urging jurors not to believe the claims.
He added: “This is like a house they built, but they built it on sand. The foundation was poor. The first shower of rain came in and began to wash it away. They want you to buy it. Don’t buy it because at the end of the day there will be no house left.”
However, Guthrie called on jurors not to speculate as to why the prosecution did not have Bastian take the stand or why the defense did not call upon her to take the stand, but to examine the clear evidence before them.
The prosecutor also acknowledged some of that evidence hinged on whether the jurors believed Ash’s testimony, but he argued that the contractor had no reason to lie.
However, Knight argued that Ash lied because of his immunity agreement, the freeze order placed on his bank account and his desire to protect Bastian, whom the defense asserted Ash had a close relationship with.
Guthrie dismissed this in his closing argument as nonsense.
He reminded the jury that Ash was given immunity after he went to police and made a statement. He also noted that while there was a freeze order on Ash’s account to determine how the funds were earned, the contractor was permitted to operate his account, including being able to withdraw $100,000 per week.
Guthrie also asserted it was nonsense to suggest Ash was protecting Bastian as his testimony put her in the same position as Gibson.
Guthrie added the defense was seeking to use the mistakes of investigators and the changed statements — all of which he said the defense was in possession of — to distract the jury from the very clear and consistent evidence that Gibson committed a crime.
But Knight argued that Gibson had no hand in assisting Ash get paid, but it was then Financial Secretary Simon Wilson, who sent an email to Department Treasury Treasurer Mary Mitchell concerning payments totaling $945,095.26
He also referred to a meeting Ash had with Bastian and them permanent secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister Jack Thompson, who the court heard wrote a note that read: ‘urgent, pay immediately’ and attached it to Ash’s invoice for work done.
The defense attorney said there was no evidence demonstrating Gibson influenced Ash’s payments, which he originally complained to Thompson about.
Knight said it brought tears to his eyes to witness such an injustice.
“Shane Gibson sit in there awaiting his fate as to whether or not you stop this injustice and stop him from going to Fox Hill,” he said.
Knight also told jurors when they leave the courtroom and return to their homes they should be able to look themselves in the mirror and know that they stood for justice for all.
However, Guthrie pointed out Bastian was hired in the NRRU by Gibson to process payments and bring them to him to sign off before they were sent to the Ministry of Finance.
He said it was nonsense for the defense to claim Bastian collected money for herself.
Guthrie referred the jury to Ash’s affidavit and testimony in court that after Thompson referred him to Bastian, he met with Bastian and Gibson at a pink building on meeting street.
It was at that meeting Ash testified Bastian asked him to forgo $250,000 as payment for Gibson. The contractor further testified that he visited his bank on the same day to withdraw $25,000 and took another $25,000 from his home before meeting Bastian to make the first payment.
Guthrie argued that in the days that followed, Ash received a series of payments of around $250,000 in each instance, which demonstrated to the contractor that the bribe worked.
He referred jurors to video evidence entered into court where Thompson interviewed Gibson at the Central Detective Unit.
Guthrie reminded jurors that during that interview, Thompson asked Gibson whether he had ever received any money from or on behalf of Ash from Bastian, and the then minister responded ‘no comment’.
He also referred to Gibson’s claim in that interview that if he saw Ash, he could talk to him. He suggested the minister was being “evasive” and seeking to distancing himself from the contractor whom he knew well, reminded the jury that Ash had done favors for Gibson and contributed financially to certain Progressive Liberal Party members on Gibson’s advise.
Guthrie closed by indicating it was not his style to ask the jury questions about their morale obligation as Knight had “perhaps because I am English”.
Noting that Knight had done so, he asked jurors when they look in the mirror about the decision they make in this trial, whether it will be a “true verdict based on the evidence”.
He ended saying: “That verdict is entirely on you.”
Bethel is expected to summarize the case to the jury today at 10 a.m. before leaving the matter in their hands for verdict.