After a three-week trial which gripped the attention of the media and attracted widespread attention among the Turks and Caicos islands population, Cortez Simmons, the son and employee of Carl Simmons, a well known and prominent and respected Turks and Caicos Islands businessman, has been sentenced to life imprisonment.
Cortez Simmons was sentenced by Chief Justice Margaret Ramsey-Hale after being found guilty by a majority verdict of 11-1 of the murder of 25-year-old Kaziah Burke on April 13, 2013 at Uncle Doe's Bar at Airport Road Providenciales.The jury deliberated for six hours until it became apparent that they could not arrive at a unanimous verdict.
Simmons had only four years prior been acquitted after a jury trial in 2009 of the murder of one Shamade Ingham, the first cousin of Burke who had been gunned down in front of the yard of Simmons's home. The DPP's office retained T&T attorney Evans Welch as a special prosecutor to lead the prosecution team in the trial.Simmons was defended by well-known English criminal lawyers Roy Ledgister and Laurie Anne-Power of the UK based Bedford Row Law Chambers in London.
The court heard that while playing a game of dominoes at the bar around 8.30 pm a gunman walked into the bar and in the presence of several patrons opened fire on Burke.As Burke retreated out of the bar on his hands and knees, the gunman followed him and continued shooting him along the way until he eventually fell in the courtyard of the bar where the shooter stood over him, fired three more shots into his body and then ran from the scene.
The autopsy revealed that Burke died from eight gunshot wounds from a 40-calibre weapon, eight exit wounds were also found on his body as they all completely penetrated his body, doing damage to several of his organs and arteries in the process.Several spent shells were found by crime scene officers scattered on the floor of the bar and in neighbouring buildings and the court yard.
The prosecution based its case entirely on circumstantial evidence as there were no witnesses willing to come foward and identify the gunman despite the presence of several people who were seen fleeing from the bar during the shooting.
The star witness for the prosecution was Haitian national Boker Odema. The prosecution led evidence of CCTV footage of an incident three weeks before Burke's murder in which Odema was identified as one of the gunmen seen in the footage engaging in a gun battle at the Digicel Cinema Complex on Leeward Highway with three other men.
United States ballistic expert Allen Greenspan testified that the gun used by Odema at the Digicel cinema incident was the same gun which was used to kill Burke as the shell casings found on both scenes bore the markings of one and the same gun.
Although the gun was never recovered, Odema testified that he had got the gun he used during the Digicel gun battle, from Cortez Simmons by snatching it out of Simmons's hand. Odema further testified that after he fired Simmons's gun at the men, Simmons demanded the return of his gun and he (Odema) complied and returned the gun to Simmons.
The prosecution argued that this evidence placed the gun that killed Burke in the hand of Simmons and that Odema was a credible witness whose evidence rang true. The defence submitted he was a downright liar.The prosecution also presented CCTV footage evidence showing a vehicle belonging to Simmons being among the first to be seen leaving the scene of Burke's murder. There was also evidence of a relationship of bad blood which existed between Simmons and Burke.
A serious bone of contention during the trial was the weight to be attached to the finding of a single particle of gunshot residue on the driver's door handle of Simmons' vehicle when it was seized after 1 pm, the day after the shooting.The issue gives rise to a clash of opinions between gunshot residue experts Angela Sure of England who was called as a defence witness and prosecution expert witness Michael Martinez of the United States, both of whom testified in the trial via the use of Skype technology.
Sure contended that as no gunshot residue was found inside the car or on the clothing or person of Simmons, that the single particle could have been deposited on the handle by some form of accidental contamination by the police or from an environmental source.
Martinez contended that notwithstanding the absence of any residue anywhere else, it was a distinct scientific possibility given the circumstances of the case that the source of the single particle was the hand of the shooter who might have been getting into his vehicle to drive away from the scene of the shooting when the particle was transferred from his trigger hand to the handle of the vehicle.By their verdict of guilty the jury strongly favoured the prosecution's arguments as advanced by lead by Welch.