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HomeNewsArchivesJudge Questions Lack of Evidence About Stabbing in Cockayne Murder Trial

Judge Questions Lack of Evidence About Stabbing in Cockayne Murder Trial

Oct. 8, 2008 — "If the facts don't fit, then you got to acquit," V.I. Superior Court Judge Brenda J. Hollar said Wednesday, as she heard arguments from defense attorneys to clear the charges against the men charged in the June 2007 stabbing death of James "Jamie" Cockayne.
Accused of aiding and abetting each other in the murder are Kamal Thomas, Anselmo Boston and Jahlil Ward. Hollar ultimately shot down the motion to dismiss charges against Ward of aiding and abetting in first- and second-degree murder, along with third-degree assault. But she reserved the right to act on motions to acquit Thomas and Boston of aiding and abetting in first- and second-degree murder, telling prosecuting attorneys they have not yet provided any evidence to show that the two conspired with each other to stab and kill Cockayne.
"My big problem is with your information," Hollar told prosecuting attorney Renee Gumbs-Carty, who opposed the motions. "You say that Boston and Thomas committed the initial assault with a stick, and you jump and say that they also aided in the stabbing. But you really don't even say stabbing — you say 'the fatal assault.' And you don't have any charge of the stabbing. It's just conspicuous. This just plays into the defense's argument that there may be some inferences to an assault with a stick, but where are they in the other counts, where the evidence points to Mr. Ward?"
Thomas and Boston were arrested last year after witnesses said the two were involved in an argument with Cockayne 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 late 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 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, said Thomas' defense attorney, Michael Joseph, during opening arguments 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.
As the trial against the three defendants continued Wednesday, Joseph argued that the "fatal assault" against Cockayne was the stabbing and not the alleged beating beforehand. The medical examiner's report identifies Cockayne's cause of death as "hemorrhagic shock due to multiple stab wounds," and there is no evidence to prove that Thomas, Ward and Boston were together at the time of Cockayne's death. The medical examiner's report also revealed that Cockayne was stabbed eight times in the chest, back and legs, the last of which resulted in a punctured artery in his right thigh.
The contusions on Cockayne's body could have been the result of a physical fight, Joseph said, as he argued that while a few of the prosecution's witnesses said they saw Boston and Thomas leave the bar that night in pursuit of Cockayne, no one actually saw them beat him.
For the murder charge to stick, Thomas would have "had to be an active participant in the stabbing, that he had to be encouraging or doing the act," Joseph said. All the murder charge is meant to do is place Thomas at the scene of the stabbing — and nothing to support that theory has been presented during the trial, he said.
Meanwhile, at least three witnesses have testified that Ward confessed to killing Cockayne, Joseph argued. Over the past few days, Asante Leslie, Ward's former girlfriend, said on the stand that Ward told her the day after the murder that he had "killed the white boy," and showed her the knife he used to commit the crime. Another witness, Glanville Frazer, said Ward knocked on his door a few minutes before midnight June 18 and demanded a ride home, saying he had just "fucked up a white boy." Ward wasn't wearing a shirt and had blood spots on his shoes, Frazer said while on the stand.
A third witness, Aaron Ferguson, said he was walking home between midnight and 12:15 a.m. on June 19, 2007, when he heard an argument coming from behind an enclosed wooded partition attached to the Fashion Palace store. Ferguson said he saw the attacker flee across the street, while Cockayne emerged, bleeding and yelling at the person who had stabbed him. Ferguson said he did not look at the attacker's face.
Ward's attorney, Michael Quinn, has sought to impeach both witnesses, saying their statements on the stand have been inconsistent with police statements taken after the murder.
One witness called to the stand Wednesday said he and Thomas went to the Front Yard Bar together the night of June 18, 2007, and left together after the bartender asked Boston and Thomas to leave. The witness — the son of Boston's current girlfriend — said he, Thomas, another male and three females then went to Hawksnest Beach to take a swim and look at the "phosphorescence" in the water. Other witnesses called by Joseph testified that Cockayne was clearly intoxicated as he went from one bar to another the night of his death.
The medical examiner's report also revealed Cockayne had cocaine and marijuana in his bloodstream and had consumed more than 10 drinks the night of his murder, according to an article in the V.I. Daily News.
But the jump from the initial assault — where witnesses said they either saw Boston and Thomas, or three black men, chase or surround Cockayne with sticks in their hands — to the murder is not too far to leap, Gumbs-Carty told the judge later in the trial. Boston started the chain of events by getting into a confrontation with Cockayne after he kicked his girlfriend's jeep, Thomas followed, and the two linked up with Ward after the two left the Front Yard in pursuit of Cockayne.
"This could have played out in more than one way," she said. "Nobody knows that the three of them didn't meet up at the intersection by Dolphin Market together, with Mr. Thomas and Mr. Boston saying, 'Ward, you finish up the job, we're going to go home.' There is a connection between Mr. Thomas, Mr. Boston and that fatal assault that occurred minutes later."
Both the prosecution and the defense have rested, leaving closing arguments scheduled for around 10 a.m. Thursday morning.
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