Appeal court orders new trial in status scam

| 05/10/2020
Cayman News Service
Cayman Islands courts

(CNS): The Cayman Islands Court of Appeal has quashed the conviction of Judith Douglas for a status scam theft of almost $2 million. In a ruling delivered on Monday by Judge Cheryll Richards on behalf of the higher court, the panel found that Douglas did not get a fair trial because of comments made by the trial judge in front of a jury that were rude, intimidating and inappropriate. As a result, the appeal court has ordered a re-trial.

Douglas was serving a ten-year jail term after being found guilty of obtaining property by deception in a scam involving just one victim, who paid over the money claiming he believed that she was legitimately able to get him Caymanian status. However, the 56-year-old woman appealed the conviction and last month argued that the treatment of her by the judge was so bad and biased that the jury was turned against her to such an extent that she could not get a fair trial.

The crown had accepted that the judge was a character who interacted with everyone involved in a casual way but maintained that his interventions, while sometimes unfortunate, were not unfair, given the way Douglas herself had behaved in the face of the evidence against her.

But the appeal court agreed with Jonathon Hughes, the attorney who argued Douglas’ appeal, that the judge’s interventions were inappropriate, even aggressive at times, prejudicing the jury against her. The court said the members could be in no doubt that the judge did not believe the woman’s evidence.

Even though they said it was rare for a conviction to be overturned based solely on a trial being unfair without questioning the evidence, this was an “exceptional case” where the judge’s behaviour was such that it was not possible to say the trial was fair.

The appeal court members said they had read and re-read the comments of the trial judge and found that he was “rude, aggressive and hostile”, even in the presence of the jury. “A defendant, no matter how difficult, is entitled to be treated fairly,” the senior justices stated before quashing the conviction and ordering a new trial.

The trial judge, Justice Carlisle Greaves, who served in the Cayman Islands Grand Court as an acting judge until he retired last summer, was a controversial character when sitting on the bench. He had also been rebuked by the appeal court in Bermuda just before his retirement over inappropriate comments he made at a trial there.

Following the appeal court ruling Douglas was remanded in custody Monday for her case to be mentioned again in the Grand Court on 16 October. In the meantime, however, her attorney said he would be making a bail application for Douglas as soon as the court reopened following Tropical Storm Delta.

Douglas was previously denied bail before and during her trial, which was adjourned half way through in March 2019 as a result of new evidence and restarted again in June. She has served almost two years of the decade-long term, which has now been overturned after the court allowed the appeal.

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Category: Courts, Crime

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