KINGSTON –– Former basketball star Kimani Ffriend’s ongoing fight for freedom in Serbian courts suffered another massive blow yesterday when a retrial in his vehicular manslaughter case went against him.
Judge Slavica Nikolic ruled that the Jamaican was guilty, even though an expert witness, who gave evidence against Ffriend in the first trial last year, changed his tune and supported the accused’s version of events of the fateful night saying it was plausible.
A reconstruction of the accident scene was said to have validated in large measure the defence’s position, but the judge was not impressed.
A new trial for Ffriend was ordered after his defence team appealed his initial three-year sentence handed down in September, 2014. The appellate court in Serbia concluded that a retrial was necessary based on “inconsistencies” in the first trial.
Ffriend, a former LA Clippers centre, was left despondent with Monday’s verdict, and expressed “disappointment” with the outcome of the new trial which began in July of this year.
“Well, I am very disappointed in the outcome mainly because the same expert who was appointed by the state to give his analysis had determined that I was at fault in the first trial, which the judge supported and found me guilty, only for the [same] court expert to now change his conclusion and say that I was not at fault for the accident based on the reconstruction of the accident, which was requested by the appellate court.
“I can only be disappointed that the judge did not agree with the same court expert’s conclusions. Now I can only wait for the appeals procedure to conclude again and trust God that I will have a favourable outcome there,” Ffriend told the Jamaica Observer from the Serbian capital of Belgrade.
The former Jamaica player will now have to go through what is expected to be an agonising wait for a formal written verdict and setencing from judge Nikolic and she is said to have one month from Monday to deliver it.
“After that I have to just wait when they decide to go. It’s a process,” said an obviously forlorn Ffriend.
Ffriend was originally sentenced after he was found liable by the Belgrade High Court for what it termed “severe act against public traffic safety” that resulted in the death of 29-year-old Nevena Dragutinovic on the night of November 3, 2012.
The Jamaican, who not only had success in the NBA, but other lucrative leagues around the world, was arrested and charged after the Skoda Fabia motorcar he was driving on a rainy Belgrade night hit the victim.
Throughout the initial trial, Ffriend’s defence maintained that a drunken Dragutinovic, who was out partying with her twin sister and friends the night before and into the pre-dawn hours of the day after, had stepped into the path of the vehicle driven by Ffriend.
On the night, the Jamaican reportedly told police that he had tried to avoid a taxi that was in the right lane and that he had swerved into the left lane and ended up hitting the victim.
According to reports, the basketball player was driving ‘under the influence’, with a reported 0.98 per cent of alcohol in his blood as determined via a breathalyzer test administered by the police.
The highly publicised first trial and the eventual outcome, which captured the imagination of the Serbian people, did not sit well with Ffriend’s legal team led by Jugoslav Tintor, and an appeal was immediately filed in the appellate court in Belgrade after the September, 2014 sentencing.
Ffriend was not committed to serve his time in a traditional prison, but was confined to house arrest where he had to wear a GPS-monitored ankle bracelet.
At the end of the appeals hearing, the court ordered that Ffriend’s bracelet be removed, which allowed him to freely move outside, a privilege he still enjoys.
Ffriend was originally in Serbia to play for the Valjevo-based Metalac basketball club and his troubles started the same day he parted ways with the outfit to make a move to Spanish franchise CB Valladolid.