Jewels Are Forever robbery trial postponed again

POSTED: 01/17/13 11:40 AM

St. Maarten – The Court in First Instance postponed the trial against Johan Alberto R. and Gilbert Ch. yesterday to a later date to give the defense one more opportunity to hear Leon Griffin in St. Kitts as a witness in a robbery at the Jewels Are Forever store on Front Street on October 24, 2010.  Due to the crammed court schedule for the coming months it was not possible to set a new date immediately. The defendants will return to court next week Wednesday to hear the new date for their trial.

Apart from the Jewels Are Forever robbery, R. is also charged with two necklace-robberies whereby he threatened his victims with a machete and a firearm (in June 20 and November 19 of 2011) and with firearm possession. Ch. is charged with two additional robberies, committed on March 12 and March 20 2011. He also has the execution of an 8-month suspended sentence hanging over his head.

It appeared yesterday that the Pointe Blanche prison had made an awkward mistake with Ch.’s detention. While has was in preventive custody last year, the prison assumed that he was executing a 9-month sentence and when his time was up in August, he was released. “But preventive custody prevails over the execution of sentences,” prosecutor Dounia Benammar said. This means that the execution of a sentence is suspended the moment someone is taken into preventive custody. This happened for instance last year when the prosecutor’s office took Akeem Daniel in preventive custody as a suspect in the 2009 murder of Eric Yuan Sam. At the time, Daniel was serving a 9-year prison sentence for complicity in the murder of Amador Jones on April 20, 2011. During the ten days Daniel spent in preventive custody, the execution of his current prison sentence was also suspended.

In November Ch. was picked up again for the execution of the same sentence, but mr. Benammar asked the court to take the defendant once more in preventive custody for the Jewels Are Forever robbery. Ch.’s attorney Shaira Bommel objected, but Judge Tamara Tijhuis granted the prosecution’s request.

The main reason for postponing the trial is that Leon Griffin supposedly has a statement to make that excuses the two defendants from the Jewels Are Forever robbery. That Griffin never got around to making that statement is because he was released from custody in April of last year and subsequently deported to his native St. Kitts.

In November, the court sentenced Griffin in absentia to 18 years imprisonment for a series of armed robberies. Attempts by the prosecutor’s office to get cooperation from the authorities in St. Kitts for hearing Griffin about the role of Johan R. and Gilbert Ch in the Jewels Are Forever robbery have so far failed. There is no bilateral agreement between St. Kitts and St. Maarten about judicial assistance and the authorities in St. Kitts have so far simply not reacted to requests for such assistance.

Johan R.’s attorney  Brenda Brooks told the court yesterday that she is in touch with Griffin’s sister and that, if need be, she will buy a ticket and fly to St. Kitts to take a statement from him herself. Apparently, Griffin was afraid to make any statement while he was detained in St. Maarten because he feared for his life. Now that he is back in St. Kitts those fears no longer play a role and he is apparently prepared to make a statement.

Judge Tamara Tijhuis said that she would allow no further postponements if Griffin has not been heard by the next trial date.

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