Privy Council rules for COA to reconsider whether there should be a retrial
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The Privy Council has set aside the Court of Appeal’s ruling of a retrial for Donna Vasyli over the stabbing death of her millionaire podiatrist husband five years ago.
The Privy Council referred the matter back to the appellant’s court for reconsideration, including the submissions from the appellant, to determine whether there is a need for a new trial.
The country’s final appeals court ruled there was a case to answer, and was not persuaded by the appellant’s evidential points.
“Whilst the Board recognizes the force of these submissions and the undesirability of further delay, the Board is not persuaded that it should exceptionally depart from the usual practice,” the ruling read.
“The discretion to exercise the power to order a new trail rests with the Court of Appeal rather than the Board.
“Although the Court of Appeal have indicated how they would be likely to exercise that discretion, that was without the benefit of submissions from the appellant.
“The balancing exercise needs to be carried out by reference to conditions now, rather than at the time of their earlier decision.
“If a retrial is ordered it would be necessary to make ancillary direction in relation to such a retrial, which the Board cannot do.”
It continued: “The Board also wishes to emphasize that since the parties agreed that the Board should determine the question of whether there was a case to answer, which it has done, that issue should not be included in the matters remitted.”
The judgement was handed down today.
Vasyli was convicted in October 2015 for the murder of her husband, Philip, in March of that year.
He was murdered at their home in the gated Old Fort Bay community.
Vasyli was sentenced to 20 years in prison in November 2015.
In July 2017, the Court of Appeal granted Vasyli a new trial, overturning her conviction.
In their ruling, the justices of the appellate court determined the trial judge made technical errors in his summation to the jury; the prosecution against Vasyli was “inconclusive”, and the judge failed to address the jury on provocation.
A trial date of January 2018 was set; however, Vasyli was given approval in August 2018 to challenge the order with the Privy Council.
Vasyli was found dead on the floor of the kitchen in the guest house of his home.
He was stabbed in the neck.
The handyman and gardener Alejandro Gomez Quintana found him, and touched his leg and arm which were covered in blood. He also picked up the knife from the patio floor.
According to evidence at trial, Quintana for informed Vasyli of her husband’s death and she hugged him and told him to calm down.
There was no sign that any of the doors to the house had been damaged or tampered with.
Small amounts of the deceased’s blood were found on Vasyli’s multi-coloured dress found in the room where she had spent the night, and on around the groin area of the dress she wore when police encountered her on the morning her husband was found.
In the 20-page judgement, Lord Nicholas Hamblen said there were a number of countervailing consideration for the jury to consider — there was no evidence of an intruder; a blue glass and two wine glasses left on the patio to the guest house on the night in question, could have been a guest, but there was no evidence of anyone expected or anyone signed in at the front security gate; nor was there CCTV evidence of anyone being seen entering or leaving the property or any other trace of a person being at the property.
The Privy Council said a difficulty with the case is that in interview the appellant stated she had been wearing a white Bahama hand print [dress] and a t-shirt the night before — not either of the dresses where blood was found.
“At no stage, moreover, did she state that she was wearing the multi-coloured dress,” the ruling read.
“In addition, it could be said that it was most unlikely that Mr. Quintana’s hug from the appellant on the morning of March 24, 2015, transferred blood at groin level (which is where blood was allegedly found on the blue dress she said she was wearing that day).
The Privy Council determined that having carefully considered the matter, it was satisfied that there was evidence upon which it would be reasonably open to the jury to conclude that the deceased’s blood was on the dress.
Thomas Roe, QC, was named as the respondent.
Clare Montgomery, QC, and Joanna Buckley were named as the appellant.