Procedural gaps in the trial and the absence of physical evidence in the face of statements an accused man apparently made but never signed led an appeals court to vacate the conviction of Omar Dacosta Holder for the 2005 triple murder of a young mother and her infant children.
The Court of Appeal ruled “reluctantly” that the capital murder case against him should have never gone to trial and declared the conviction unsafe.
This morning’s decision comes almost a month after Holder’s attorney Andrew Pilgrim, QC, delivered a tongue-lashing on the court for its tardiness in handing down a judgment in an appeal made on Holder’s behalf back in 2013.
The former murder convict of Pasture Road, Haggatt Hall, St Michael had been on death row for the past decade after he was sentenced to death when a jury found him guilty of the murders of 20-year-old Sakina Walrond, her son Shaqkem Gittens, aged 3, and two-month-old daughter Sha-Mya Mapp on March 31, 2005.
In handing down the ruling Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson explained that the Crown’s case against Holder was “predicated largely” on several oral statements as well as a written statement which he allegedly dictated but refused to sign.
The “appellant never initialled the statements to the police nor did he sign the so-called written statements, which he disavowed and attempted to destroy by chewing.
“Next, it is clear to us that both statements were oral since neither statements was ever acknowledged by the appellant’s signature or initial”, Sir Marston said.
During the trial, the court heard that Holder had allegedly told police when questioned that “my Creator tell me to make a sacrifice” before hitting the young mother on the head as she slept with one of her children moments before setting their Haggatt Hall home on fire.
But according to the Chief Justice, no ‘voir dire’ – a preliminary examination of a witness or a juror by a judge or attorney – was conducted at trial since the appellant never disputed the reliability of the statements and never alleged that he was in any way forced or induced to make the statements.
Sir Marston said: “In the absence of any eyewitness, fingerprint or other trace evidence or DNA or other forensic evidence or any other evidence to corroborate the appellant’s oral statements, we hold and do so with the greatest reluctance that this case ought not to have gone to the jury at all, however credible the oral statements may have appeared to have been.
“Accordingly, there is merit in the appellant’s contention that the verdict is unsafe and unsatisfactory in so far as the case ought not to have gone to the jury. There was accordingly a lurking doubt about the verdict, the appeal must, therefore, be allowed. The appeal is allowed, the conviction is quashed and the sentence be set aside. Mr Holder, that’s the judgment from the court.”
Several minutes later, Holder walked out of the Supreme Court Complex into the arms of his older sister, accompanied by attorney-at-law Kyle Walkes who was substituting for Pilgrim in the case.
After speaking with his lawyer and a nephew who was also outside the court and phoning family members to break the news, Holder told Barbados TODAY that he was happy to be freed.
But Holder, who claimed he was “set up”, also declared himself a changed man after years in “horrible, horrible” prison.
He said: “It’s good to be free, the Lord sees and knows…. Obviously, I get set up so I know that victory was always on the way and I was on death row for ten years and three months and jail horrible.
“Getting water and bread ‘pun an evening and something name ‘manna rice’ that ain’t even in society.
“’Manna rice’ you goin’ get it every day; if you refuse it, nothing else ain’t coming. Jail horrible, horrible place to be. I am so glad that the Father [get me out].”
He continued: “All I want society to know is that they tarnish my reputation, my character and everything but the Father sees and knows and deliver me from the hardship that I was going through and I got ‘nuff to thank the Lord for.
“The 14 years that I went in, I am not the same person. I am a changed man – people will see it gradually as I walk the walk and talk the talk.
“I just want to thank Pilgrim for the hard work he and his associates [put in], for the good job they put up and do. I just want to be with my family now and it is nice to be free.”
His older sister, who declined to give her name, said she was elated with the news.
She said: “Put God in front and everything will work out.
“I never doubted but I was not looking for it so soon.
“I am so, so excited, overjoyed. I am glad that he is home.
“I just hope that he will… move on and put God first in anything that he do.”
Holder had some advice for the youth especially in the face of the violence plaguing society.
“I want the youths to know that jail ain’t no bed of roses and they better check themselves.
“Crime don’t pay. I was there long. I was there 14 years, three months and days so I can tell you it hard and rough.
“See crime and lef’ it alone. I glad that my family was there for me from the start they didn’t lef’ me.
“Think before you do things, boy; jail rough.
“It’s a horrible place to be so I won’t even want my enemy go there,” he said.