The nine member jury who returned a guilty verdict on all three, cocaine smuggling related charges facing Trinidadian Junior ‘Pin’ Gomez also acquitted his co-accused Gabriel “Goofy” Hutchins, a 47 year old chef from Bequia, on all of the same counts.
The pair were accused of importing some 10 kilos of cocaine with a High Court accepted street value of approximately EC$600 000.00, into St. Vincent and the Grenadines by way of Bequia on November 6, 2015. Gomez was arrested as he maneuvered 11 of the 12 five-gallon buckets of what was labelled as “Kaleidoscope contractor primer” onto a sidewalk in Bequia.
“12 one-gallon pails of paint” was officially shipped. This stark difference in what was described on the manifest versus what was cleared from the Customs in his name was likened to a person shipping tenor pans but actually receiving bass pans by defense counsel Grant Connel as he addressed the jury last Wednesday.
Gomez’ defense attorney, Israel Bruce, told Asbert News Network, “it was not necessarily the verdict that I was expecting but one have to bear in mind that we are part of a judicial system where the persons making the decisions as to innocence or guilt are our brothers and sisters, as lay people….
“Of course as legal practitioners and as defense representatives we will seek to encourage and invite them to find in a particular way whilst the Crowne would say, ‘look, find in the opposite direction.’ At the end of the day, those persons in the jury room make the decision as to innocence or guilt.
“The long and short of it is that I really was not expecting to have convictions as they came against Mr. Gomez.”
In 2018 Gomez was convicted by the Kingstown based Serious Offences Court on illicit ganja possession and intent to supply ganja charges while being on bail for the same cocaine smuggling charges which followed his arrest, in Bequia, on November 6, 2015. Having served his 22 month jail term Gomez subsequently absconded from further Court proceedings relating to the cocaine charges.
With no client from whom to receive instructions, Bruce’s Law Chambers sought leave of High Court Judge Brian Cottle to be relieved of their legal obligations to Gomez’ defense. That application was promptly denied before the weeklong trial commenced about a week prior to Thursday’s verdict.
Although there were instances when Bruce was unable to field an objection due to the lack of instructions, the trial was heard in Gomez’ absence. Gabriel “Goofy” Hutchins, lead chef to the “rich and famous” at a private villa in Mustique for some 19 years, was present throughout.
Bruce told ANN that his chamber’s efforts to be removed as attorney of record came from his intrinsic unwillingness to “professionally embarrass” himself. But for him the penultimate feature of the entire trial comes back to the jury’s verdict.
“I was not present when the summing up was done by the learned trial Judge so I am not at liberty to say whether or not the learned trial Judge addressed certain points of law with regards to the jury but what I found rather interesting is that you had a situation where two persons were charged on the count of conspiracy.
“The count essentially says that Junior Gomez conspired with Gabriel Hutchins. And I want to be very crystal clear on this – it’s not Junior Gomez conspired with another; it’s not Junior Gomez and Gabriel Hutchins conspired with other persons unknown.
“It was Junior Gomez and Gabriel Hutchins who were the two conspirators according to the Crowne. You’d note that Hutchins was found not guilty on all three counts whilst Junior Gomez was found guilty on all three counts.
“So I find that there is an immaculate legal anomaly given that you have Junior Gomez who allegedly conspired with Hutchins. Hutchins is said not to have conspired with Gomez but Gomez is said to have conspired with Hutchins. That is not possible!
“Where you have two persons charged for having conspired with each other; one cannot be found guilty and the other is found to be innocent. You either find both of them innocent or you find both of them guilty.
“I am not prepared to trespass on the summing up of the learned trial judge because I was not present; I don’t know what the learned trial Judge told the jurors on that particular legal point so I want to let it stay where it is.
“Save and except to say, to me that represents a monumental legal blunder. It opens up itself for possible appellate proceedings.”
The High Court learnt that Fletcher Goodluck, another Bequia resident, posted a $100 000.00 bail for Gomez when he was arrested in 2015, through Connel’s cross examination of Prosecution witness Assistant Superintendent of Police Foster Scott.
Bruce told ANN that he represented Goodluck’s application before the Court when it became apparent that Gomez had fled the Vincentian Court’s jurisdiction.
“There were indeed Court proceedings and I represented the person who stood surety for Mr. Gomez and the Court ruled based on an application that was before the Court and the Court was satisfied that the surety had done enough within the legal requirements of the surety to ensure the attendance of Mr. Gomez,” he said.
Bruce remembered one of the last efforts to reach Gomez that yielded fruit. On that day both Bruce and Goodluck reached out to remind him of his much needed presence in Court.
“He did indicate that he was on the island of Union Island and there were clear instructions to him from the surety and advice from me on the dictate of the Court that he must immediately turn himself into the police on Union Island.
“Clearly that didn’t happen but the Court was satisfied that Mr. Goodluck had done what was necessary as a surety and that the absconding of Gomez was not without the efforts of Mr. Fletcher Goodluck to do what was necessary as surety. That was my understanding of the ruling of the Court.”
Jeshua Bardoo, a junior lawyer in Bruce’s Law Chamber and the proxy who delivered Bruce’s summation to the Court, confirmed that the High Court is yet to schedule a sentencing date.
According to local media, Trinidadian Desmond ‘Cat’ Pavy was to be extradited from Trinidad to serve his custodial sentence here after his successful prison break from the Belle Isle campus on February 22, 2014. Pavy was jailed for “being in possession of a controlled drug,” iWitness News reported.
ANN reached out to Director of Public Prosecutions Sejilla McDowall in several attempts to ascertain whether similar efforts like those expended to hold Pavy accountable would be deployed in Gomez’ case. Her office responded that she was “not available” each time we phoned.
Meanwhile Hutchins is optimistic about his future. Obviously relieved at the jury’s exoneration, he was also grateful for the legitimate business relationship that got started between himself and Gomez. It was because of their joint interests in exporting conch, fish and lobster from the Grenadines that caused him to today be, “the proud owner of conch pearls.”
Though he suffered much over the last 6 years having been forced to get a Court order to attend his brother’s funeral in Trinidad coupled with having been fired from his Mustique based job for 3 of the 6 years he was waiting for his day in Court, Hutchins was unsure whether further legal actions would ensue in pursuit of recompense for damages to his name.
Connel told ANN, “we would cross that bridge when we reach it. There are several things that cause concern in this case. The allegations of the brand that was used;
“I think the authorities in Trinidad should have played a much bigger role in this – even the company that they alleged that the buckets came from, they had a duty to them to even check to see if those buckets were even coded or have any nexus to that company, to see if those stickers originated from that company.
“As the officer said ‘wishe wanke investigation’ and I think the DPP referred to ‘halabuloo’. But we as a nation can’t afford to have this level of investigation, we deserve better than that.
“You just don’t destroy a man’s life with that type of investigation and the powers that be must see the training of the police as a priority. There’s no price to put on justice and as I’ve heard someone say before, ‘police stations are the A&E (Accident and Emergency) of justice.
“When you make the error there at that level, sometimes you can’t cure the legal injury further up the road…. There was an admission to the jury during the closing that the investigation was inadequate and the sampling procedure that I’ve spoken about for over 10 years – that is wrong in my humble opinion – I think there was an admission to the jury too that the sampling process is wrong.
“So you can’t admit wrong on one hand and push forward blindly. But it’s over and I thank God for small mercies and the verdict – I think the jury got it right.”
Hutchins dodged a 25 years jail sentence with the jury’s verdict last Thursday.