Suspicion is not evidence, say lawyers in bank burglary

| 17/05/2024
RBC in George Town

(CNS): After a two-month-long trial, all four lawyers representing the defendants accused of being part of a burglary at a George Town bank almost eight years ago urged the jury not to convict on suspicion because that is not evidence. As the attorneys delivered closing arguments on Monday and Tuesday, they all said the crown had not presented evidence that their clients were involved in the half-million-dollar heist but had built a case on unproven suspicions.

David Samuel Bodden Jr, Statan Omar Clarke and Elton David Webster are accused of burglary, while Webster’s wife, Eliza Eunice Webster, is charged with the possession of criminal property in relation to the theft of more than CI$500,000 from the Royal Bank of Canada in June 2016.

The crown contends that Bodden, who was an employee at the bank at the time, arranged the burglary while he pretended to work late. He left doors propped open, which allowed Clarke and Webster to take the cash from the banking hall.

During eight weeks of evidence, as the defence lawyers responded to the crown’s case on behalf of their clients, they all stuck to a similar theme, arguing that the crown hadn’t presented any concrete evidence.

The attorneys said the prosecutors had cobbled a case together based on what investigators thought was suspicious and went looking for evidence to fit a narrative rather than keeping an open mind about the myriad other possibilities to explain the late-night heist.

The suspicions began about a month after the burglary when Eliza Webster was found at the airport with CI$8,000 in cash, including several notes that were brand new and in sequence and were later found to have been part of a delivery to the bank shortly before the burglary.

Around one-third of the notes Webster was carrying as she headed out with her family on a trip to Miami could be traced to that cash delivery. However, the crown could not say with certainty which notes had been stolen.

Crister Brady, who represented Eliza Webster, said the cash delivery that was the focus of the crown’s case included some 10,000 different notes, and throughout the trial, none of the witnesses were able to say when or how that cash went into circulation.

No evidence was presented to say whether those notes were given out over the bank counter, placed in a cash machine or were in the draws from where the cash was stolen on the night of the burglary, Brady said.

When she was arrested, Eliza Webster told police that the money in her possession came partially from savings, the sale of two cars and some side work that her husband was doing. There was nothing that linked his client to a crime, he said.

The crown had contended that Webster’s husband, Elton Webster, had acted suspiciously at the airport and that when his wife was stopped, he had “made a run for it”, a position that he has denied. Summing up her client’s case, Amelia Fosuhene, who represented Elton Webster, also stressed the view that the crown had no evidence at all that he had anything to do with the burglary but had again sought to elevate suspicion to the level of evidence.

Witnesses had described men talking outside the bank, but these descriptions did not fit Webster, Fosuhene said. In addition, the telephone cell site evidence that the crown said placed Webster at the bank was misleading because he was at the Hard Rock Cafe at the time, which would have been in the same cell site range.

She said that even though the crown claimed the men had split the $500,000, there was no evidence at all of Webster or his wife going on any kind of spending spree.

David Bodden was labelled by the crown as the inside man who set up the situation for his co-defendants by propping open the banking hall door for them. But his attorney, Prathna Bodden, said her client was being punished for working late. She pointed out that other people were in the bank working late that evening, including cleaners and others who had access.

While there were rules surrounding security, it appeared that the protocols were not always followed, and although Bodden’s fob had been used that night, his attorney argued there was no evidence on which the jury could base a sure conviction that because he was there, he was connected to the theft.

According to the crown’s case, Statan Clarke secured a car from a friend for the audacious burglary. However, he denied having any involvement in the crime, maintaining that he was with his “side chick”, a woman described as a “friend with benefits”, as he was helping her move home, and the woman confirmed the alibi to police.

The crown contends that Clarke, who was a friend of Elton Webster, was using that woman’s phone that night to coordinate the theft, which explains why calls were made to Elton Webster from her phone. But that was denied by Clarke as well as the woman providing his alibi.

Lee Halliday-Davis, who represented Clarke, also argued that prosecutors were basing their case on what they thought appeared suspicious but had no evidence linking Clarke to the crime. She pointed out that the crown’s theory that Clarke had borrowed a car from a friend to use in the heist, which was tracked by experts, was far from solid.

During the trial, the jury heard from the police and experts that the car suspected to be the getaway vehicle was tracked, not through number plates but by other visual means such as headlight patterns. But Halliday-Davis noted that the crown’s experts couldn’t be certain that they had tracked the same vehicle throughout its journey, and there was no way to know if the car they had tracked had anything at all to do with the burglary.

Clarke, who had bought his main girlfriend a car not long after the burglary for less than CI$3,000, said that money had come from a “cash pot” he had won playing numbers.

All of the attorneys told the jury there was no forensic evidence, no CCTV footage, no way of knowing what notes were stolen, and no certainty whether or not the car the police decided was involved actually was, and if it was involved, they had been unable to track it successfully to connect the three men.

They said the circumstantial evidence that the crown had was ambiguous suspicion and not the standard of evidence required to convict anyone of a crime, as they urged the jury to return not guilty verdicts.

In each case, the lawyers argued on behalf of the defendants that their clients had given perfectly plausible explanations to counter the suspicions that had emerged against them. But in not one of the cases had the crown actually placed any evidence before the jury that could lead them to be sure they were involved in the burglary.

Justice Roger Chapple, who is presiding over the case, began directing the jury on the law on Thursday and is expected to continue recapping the lengthy case on Friday.

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