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HomeNewsArchivesJury Hears Opening Arguments as Cockayne Murder Trial Begins

Jury Hears Opening Arguments as Cockayne Murder Trial Begins

Oct. 6, 2008 — While prosecuting attorneys laid out a case Monday against the three men they said chased down and brutally murdered James "Jamie" Cockayne in the streets of St. John, defense attorneys told the jury that holes in the prosecution's case could only lead to one verdict for Anselmo Boston, Kamal Thomas and Jahlil Ward: not guilty.
The three stand accused of aiding and abetting each other in first-degree murder, second-degree murder, third-degree assault and the use of a deadly weapon during the commission of a crime of violence. All three have pleaded not guilty.
Thomas and Boston were arrested last year after witnesses said the two were involved in an argument with Cockayne on the night of his murder on St. John. Boston has admitted to having a verbal confrontation with "a white guy" who had "kicked his jeep" in the early evening hours of June 18, 2007, according to a statement obtained by police after the incident. Boston added that he hit Cockayne in the shoulder and neck with a pool stick, but did not follow when Cockayne left the Front Yard Bar in Cruz Bay a little while later.
In a statement taken shortly after his arrest, Thomas told investigators that he was at the Front Yard Bar from 10 to 11:30 p.m. on the evening in question, and was involved in an argument with Cockayne. The two were later thrown out by the bartender, and alibi witnesses can place Thomas at a nearby beach with some friends at the time of the murder, Thomas' defense attorney Michael Joseph said Monday. Joseph has argued in recent hearings that it was Ward who attempted to rob Cockayne later that night and stabbed him after Cockayne fought back.
"There was only one man bloody that night — and that was Mr. Ward," Joseph said Monday in his opening argument. On the night of his death, Cockayne was "partying about St. John" and had about "13 to 14" drinks in him, Joseph said.
"Things got out of hand," he said. "In that state, he (Cockayne) kicked the jeep, he cursed and things got out of hand. Witnesses will testify that Mr. Cockayne had initially approached another man that night, asking for drugs. The man said no and pushed him away. It was then that he approached Mr. Ward, who said, 'Sure, I've got some, come with me.' And it was there that Mr. Cockayne was brutally stabbed, in a one-on-one confrontation."
Joseph urged the jury to consider each defendant's case separately, and said that no evidence would be shown to prove that Thomas had "ever touched" Cockayne. In fact, Thomas' arrest came after a national media blitz started by Cockayne's parents that left police scrambling to find someone to blame, Joseph added.
Ward was the victim in another unrelated incident, and the government had sent him to the mainland under "semi-protective custody" until he was brought back to the territory and arrested for the murder, Carty said after a court hearing in August. Referencing this information during trial, Ward's defense attorney, Michael Quinn, said his client "wasn't around" at the time of the murder.
"Mr. Ward was in the United States, oblivious to all this," he said. "The government had looked at Mr. Ward earlier in the investigation, but had decided not to pursue it. But then they slowly bought into the story provided by the two other defendants."
But prosecutors painted a different picture, calling several witnesses to the stand who said they saw Thomas and Boston chase Cockayne, sticks in hand, head "up the street" after the initial altercation took place.
"According to Mr. Boston's statement, Jamie had kicked his girlfriend's jeep around 6 p.m. that evening," said prosecuting attorney Renee Gumbs Carty, who began her opening argument by trying to lay out a time line of events leading up to Cockayne's murder. "Later on that night, Mr. Boston and Mr. Thomas were in the Front Yard Bar. Jamie was excited about being back on St. John, and he was moving from establishment to establishment, when he made it to the Front Yard Bar and saw Mr. Boston, who was angered by what had happened."
Boston and Cockayne got into a fight, during which time Boston "grabbed a pool stick" and struck Cockayne in the neck and shoulder, she added. Kenneth Rawlings, a witness at the bar, saw the fight between Cockayne and Boston, and also saw Thomas — who was "getting angry and riled up" — nearby, Carty said.
"They were cursing Mr. Cockayne," she said. "Mr. Thomas picked up a two-by-four and stuck it in his pants. Mr. Rawlings said, 'Put the sticks down, leave the kid alone,' but they ignored him and started to chase Jamie up the street."
Another witness said she saw "three black males" with sticks in their hands surround Cockayne further up the street to the Fashion Palace, where Cockayne's car was parked. Cockayne was able to make it to his car, but by that time, he was already badly beaten, Carty said later.
"It was then, as he was trying to get into his vehicle, that Jahlil Ward and Mr. Cockayne continued to fight," Carty said. "There is a wooden partition in front of the Fashion Palace, blocking the view of anyone from the public street. Mr. Ward and Mr. Cockayne fought behind it, and it was then that Mr. Ward stabbed Mr. Cockayne eight times — four times to the front of the body and four times to the back."
By that time it was after midnight, she said.
But witnesses saw Ward "dash" across the street to a friend's house and knock on the door, she said. Ward demanded a ride, and then confessed to his friend, saying that he had just "f'ed up the white guy," Carty added. When speaking to a different individual the next day, Ward again confessed to killing Cockayne, she said.
While on the stand, police officer Earl Mills said Rawlings stopped him on the night of the murder as Mills was returning to the nearby police station to check in with his supervisor after patrolling Cruz Bay. After hearing that Boston and Thomas had headed down the road in pursuit of Cockayne, Mills said he jumped in his car and drove around the Cruz Bay area for about 15 minutes. Though he did not see signs of another confrontation, he did encounter Boston near the Cruz Bay dock.
"As I got down to the dock, there was a black male soaked with perspiration, with a small piece of stick in his hand," Mills said. "I called him over and asked him why he was sweating so much, and he told me that he and his boys were just playing around. I didn't think it was anything out of the ordinary, so I went on my way."
Around 12:20 a.m., Mills said he was called out to the crime scene by another police officer, and found Cockayne, laying face up in a pool of blood. At that time, Cockayne had a "weak pulse," Mills said.
"I requested an ambulance," he said. "Mr. Cockayne tried to speak while I was taking his vitals, but no sound was coming out. He was trying to get up, but I told him to calm down, that an ambulance was on its way."
The trial continues Tuesday at 9 a.m.
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