‘I’ve been robbed four years of my life’
Former hotel worker bemoans long wait for appeal to finally clear his name
A grave “miscarriage of justice” resulted in the conviction of a hotel worker, who spent four years in prison before he was freed this month by the Court of Appeal. “I have been robbed of four valuable years of my life because of a flawed justice...
A grave “miscarriage of justice” resulted in the conviction of a hotel worker, who spent four years in prison before he was freed this month by the Court of Appeal.
“I have been robbed of four valuable years of my life because of a flawed justice system,” said 32-year-old St Ann resident Kemoy Kesto.
“I am still traumatised by the injustice done to me and if only a DNA test was done, I would not have been convicted,” a tearful Kesto shared with The Sunday Gleaner last week.
The day after Kesto was arrested and charged with illegal possession of firearm, unlawful wounding and assault, he volunteered for blood samples to be taken for DNA testing to prove his innocence.
The complainant, who was a taxi driver, had reported that Kesto, whom he did not know before, was a passenger in his motor car about 11:30 p.m. on December 13, 2012.
He reported that his attacker pointed a gun at him and attempted to fire it, but the gun stuck. The attacker grabbed the steering wheel, hit him in the head, and as they struggled, the car got out of control and crashed.
The complainant said he then used a chopper to inflict a wound to his attacker’s head. The complainant went to the St Ann’s Bay Hospital for treatment and within minutes of being there, he saw Kesto and pointed him out to the police and he was arrested.
The police, at Kesto’s request, took him to get blood samples, which were sent to the forensic laboratory, but the police failed in their investigations to collect blood samples from the chopper and the motor car.
‘JUDICIAL ERROR AND NEGLIGENCE’
“It was judicial error and negligence on the part of the prosecution and the police that led to Kesto being convicted,” said attorney-at-law Oswest Senior Smith, who represented the man at his trial and on appeal.
He described the conviction as “a miscarriage of justice”.
Senior Smith emphasised that at the Gun Court trial in the St Ann Circuit Court, he deferentially pointed out to the trial judge the numerous judicial errors, but his indications were ignored.
Kesto, who had a wound to the face when he was arrested, had said in his defence that he was at a “dead yard playing dominoes” when someone hit him in the face with a stone. He called witnesses to support his defence. However, he was convicted in 2018 of illegal possession of firearm, unlawful wounding and assault and sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment.
The grounds of appeal filed were based on egregious judicial errors and Senior Smith said he is happy that the Court of Appeal – comprising Justice Marva McDonald Bishop, Justice Carol Edwards and Justice Nicole Simmons – upheld his submissions and quashed the convictions, four years into Kesto’s sentence.
“Although I was living an honest, hard-working and upright life, it did not pay off for me,” Kesto said last week.
He described the conditions in prison as very horrible and inhumane.
Kesto, who shared that he is a very good cook, disclosed that he worked at Jewel Resort in St Ann for three years before he was arrested. Prior to that, he said he worked at Beaches Resort, and pointed out that since he was a teenager, he had been gainfully employed.
“One of the things that bothers me most is that my daughter will be four years old in June and I have missed out being a father to her for such a long time. When I went to prison, my girlfriend was pregnant and I saw my daughter only twice while I was incarcerated. During family day, I saw her for the first time when she was a few months old and next when she was a year old,” he disclosed, adding that he was happy to be home to be a good father to her.
Kesto is now job hunting and is hoping that he will find employment soon so that he can take care of himself and his family.
DRASTIC CHANGES NEEDED
“There needs to be drastic changes in the justice system, because how could my appeal take four years to be completed while I suffered in prison?” Kesto queried.
“Despite the injustice, the traumatic experience, the negligence in regard to the DNA tests, I have to be positive and move forward with my life because my daughter is my inspiration,” he added.
Senior Smith added “this matter brings two of several corollary issues into very sharp focus”.
“The first issue is how such a miscarriage of justice can literally destroy the life of someone who is accused on mere allegations without the deployment of scientific independent facilities like DNA, photographs, CCTV footage and video clips as ‘aides’ to judicial decision-making. These bits of evidentiary material, arguably, can assist the process of justice by exculpating defendants or ensnaring them as the likely offenders and should be included in the amendment to the Firearms Act for a mandatory minimum sentence,” he said.
“The other issue is the fact that the Court of Appeal is the final court for the plethora of gun matters. Gun cases, except for murders, are confined to the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal, which is particularly sensitive to this fact. In particular, the judges who heard Kesto’s appeal were especially attuned to the fair trial obligations owed by the State to the accused.”