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Cockayne Case Goes to Jury

Oct. 9, 2008 — Pictures of a smiling James Cockayne lit up the projection screen in V.I. Superior Court for a few minutes Thursday, but prosecutors quickly replaced them with an image of his bruised and lifeless body, eliciting gasps from jurors and tears from family members gathered in what has been, for the past four days, an otherwise silent courtroom.
Prosecuting attorneys said that they used the images in their closing arguments to show that Cockayne at 21 years old was on the brink of starting a "life full of hope" before he was beaten and stabbed to death by Anselmo Boston, Kamal Thomas and Jahlil Ward — three men that aided and abetting each other in committing the crime.
"Blood, blood, blood, all over the streets of St. John, and what for? Because Jamie Cockayne kicked Anselmo Boston's girlfriend's jeep," prosecuting attorney Renee Gumbs-Carty said to the jury, whose eyes stayed riveted to her face as she moved about the courtroom, her voice echoing as she etched out a timeline that began with a fight between Boston and Cockayne at the Front Yard Bar on St. John, and ended with Ward stabbing and killing Cockayne at the Fashion Palace store further up the street.
Thomas joined Boston in teaching Cockayne "a lesson," Gumbs-Carty said. Witnesses saw the two pursue Cockayne up the street after he and Boston were kicked out the bar in the late evening hours of June 18, 2007. One witness, Kenneth Rawlings, said he saw Thomas put a two-by-four in the back of his shirt before the chase began, and soon after told a nearby police officer that some kind of "trouble" was brewing, Gumbs-Carty said. Another witness said she saw "three black men" surround a "white boy" further up the road, sticks in hand. She honked her horn to break up the fight, but the men stayed where they were.
"They beat him (Cockayne) when he was defenseless," Gumbs-Carty said. "He was already intoxicated, but there was no way that these three would have allowed him to get out their claws. They were all in this together."
Gumbs-Carty described Ward as the group's "enforcer." Even if Boston and Thomas were only involved in beating Cockayne, they knew that Ward "had the nerves" to finish the job by plunging the knife into Cockayne's body, she said. Three witnesses — 16-year-old Asante Leslie, St. John resident Glanville Frazer and Ward's cousin Jamal Jackson — all said that Ward confessed to the murder. Leslie said that he had even shown her the murder weapon, Gumbs-Carty said.
"Did he deserve to die?" she asked the jury. "To be chased down the streets of St. John to be beaten by these defendants? To be butchered by them? Jamie was getting his life together, but it all came to an abrupt end because of the malicious behavior, because of the callous intent, because of these evil minds that were bent on mischief."
Boston, Thomas and Ward are all charged with aiding and abetting each other in first and second-degree murder, along with third degree assault and using a dangerous weapon during the commission of a crime of violence.
Reasonable Doubt
Jurors were asked by Boston's defense attorney Benjamin Currence to "sift" through the evidence in the case with a metaphorical sieve designed to catch any hint of "reasonable doubt." It's the government's job to prove the guilt of each defendant, he said, and if they can't, then the only possible verdict is not guilty.
There are "a whole bunch" of holes in the prosecution's case, starting with Cockayne's cause of death, which has been identified by the medical examiner as "hemorrhagic shock due to multiple stab wounds — not a "fatal assault," as the government alleged, he said. All evidence in the case points to Ward as the actual killer, including testimony from three witnesses who said they saw a lone man dash from behind a wooden partition attached to the Fashion Palace and run across the street.
Boston wasn't at the Fashion Palace at the time of the stabbing — instead, he was "a ways away," talking to V.I. Police Officer Earl Mills, who testified earlier in the week that he ran into and talked to Boston as he was patrolling near the Cruz Bay dock between 11:30 p.m. and midnight.
In a statement given to police after the incident, Boston admitted to having a verbal confrontation with "a white guy" who had "kicked his Jeep" in the late evening hours of June 18, 2007. 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.
"This may be at worst a case of simple assault," Currence said Thursday. "It's not first-degree murder, particularly when Mr. Boston wasn't even at the scene of the crime."
Thomas' defense Attorney Michael Joseph also pointed the finger at Ward, and called the charges against his client "a fantasy."
"One man confessed three times to killing a man all by himself," Joseph said. "That doesn't mean you have to drag two others in because they had a melee with Jamie Cockayne at least a half an hour before. That's not justice. We had to solve this case for the police. It is our witnesses that helped to turn over Mr. Ward and instead of saying thank you, they said Mr. Thomas helped kill” Cockayne.
Ward's attorney Michael Quinn also attempted to point the finger at someone else: Frazer, who testified earlier in the week that Ward had knocked on his door after the incident occurred and demanded a ride home, saying that he had just beat up "a white guy." Witnesses description of the killer also matches Frazer, who also said on the stand that he drove Ward home dressed in a tee-shirt and boxer shorts. Frazer was also dressed in his underwear after he came back to his house, parked his car and walked down the street, where he later encountered Mills, Quinn said.
"Walking around town in his underwear — who does that?" he asked the jury. "But he could have taken his pants off when he saw there was blood on it." Frazer testified during the trial that he saw blood spots on Ward's shoes — a fact that was missing from the testimony of Frazer's girlfriend Jonique Clendinen, who took the stand earlier in the week, Quinn said.
The majority of Clendinen's testimony matched Frazer's, and that is because the two are in an abusive relationship, Quinn said, adding that Clendinen kept the stories the same so she wouldn't "get hit again."
What is more incredible, Quinn said, is that Ward would confess to Leslie — and show her the murder weapon the day after a "notorious murder" had taken place. The attorney said the more likely story is that Leslie, Ward's "obsessive" former girlfriend, was trying to "get him back" for breaking up with her, he added.
"All these confessions are made to private people when no one else is around," Quinn said. "They were either people who were friends with Mr. Thomas and Mr. Boston, or who were on not so good terms with Mr. Ward." These witness were also "spoon-fed" to the prosecution by Thomas and Boston, who were "desperate" to pin the crime on someone else," he added.
Prosecutors bought the story, but had little forensic evidence to back it up, Quinn said. To beef up their case, they instead relied on several bloody pictures of the crime scene and presented the testimony of Cockayne's "grieving father" to play to the jury's emotions, he said.
"They're hoping all that blood and the family's tears would get you angry enough to ignore the fact that they haven't proven their case," Quinn told the jury. "That is shameless and not credible."
Jury deliberation begins at 9 a.m. Friday.
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