The Causwell case

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION&COMMENTARY - An­nie Paul An­nie Paul is a writer and critic based at the Univer­sity of the West Indies and au­thor of the blog, Ac­tive Voice (an­ Email feedback to col­umns@glean­ or tweet @an­niepaul.

ON MONDAY, news broke that mur­derer Steven Causwell was fi­nally sen­tenced to life im­pris­on­ment after a case that be­gan in 2008 and me­an­dered its way un­cer­tainly for eight whole years. The fam­ily of his vic­tim, Na­dia Mitchell, her daugh­ter and mother in par­tic­u­lar, were afraid that with his wealth and con­nec­tions, he would be let off, but jus­tice has pre­vailed. Steven Causwell will have to serve at least 20 years be­fore he is el­i­gi­ble for pa­role.

The Causwell mur­der case is a good ex­am­ple of how dif­fer­ently the me­dia and the jus­tice sys­tem in Ja­maica treat per­pe­tra­tors of ma­jor crimes when they come from the coun­try’s elite. The scion of a big busi­ness fam­ily, you will look in vain for images of the mur­derer in ei­ther of the coun­try’s two news­pa­pers. When­ever the case was re­ported in the news­pa­pers, the im­age of a gavel was used as a place­holder where nor­mally you would have seen pho­tographs of the ac­cused.

Both news­pa­pers freely used images of the young and at­trac­tive vic­tim, who at one time was in a re­la­tion­ship with Causwell. The re­la­tion­ship was an abu­sive one, and Na­dia Mitchell even­tu­ally left Causwell, un­able to take the rou­tine bat­ter­ing he meted out. Her young daugh­ter, Imani Prendergast, tes­ti­fied to the bru­tal­ity of the beat­ings and the trauma of watch­ing her mother se­verely abused.

What were the facts of the case? On July 16, 2008, Mitchell, a make-up artist, who by then was in a new re­la­tion­ship, was killed in her apart­ment, where she had gone to pick up some per­sonal be­long­ings. Her body was then flung off the bal­cony of her fourth-floor Oak­lands apart­ment by her ex-boyfriend, Steven Causwell, whose lawyers later tried to claim that Mitchell had com­mit­ted sui­cide. They were un­able, how­ever, to ex­plain the blows to the head that ac­tu­ally killed her.

The twists and turns of the case are fas­ci­nat­ing. So sure was Causwell that he would es­cape the long arm of the law that he led a nor­mal life after be­ing re­leased from cus­tody hav­ing paid $3 mil­lion in bail monies. On July 16 of the fol­low­ing year, 2009, Causwell took part in Na­tional Com­mer­cial Bank Cap­i­tal Mar­kets’ Sport­ing Clays Open tour­na­ment at Cay­manas Golf and Coun­try Club and even won a prize for top­ping one of the cat­e­gories.

As the Observer re­ported, “The busi­ness­man was cham­pion of the ‘D’ class divi­sion with 71 points, ahead of Richard Khouri and Mike Phillips. Sport­ing Clay is an ac­tiv­ity that in­volves shoot­ing clay tar­gets us­ing sin­gle- or dou­ble-bar­relled shot­guns at mul­ti­ple lo­ca­tions. The sport here nor­mally at­tracts an elite group of well-off Ja­maicans.”

Well, there’s no law against an ac­cused out on bail us­ing a firearm, but that Causwell would par­tic­i­pate openly in such a pub­lic con­test hints at the im­punity he en­joyed.

An­other news item that at­tended this case was more sen­sa­tional: “FOUR cel­lu­lar phones, a blood-stained com­forter, and a pair of fe­male un­der­wear that were seized by the po­lice in the af­ter­math of the death of Na­dia Mitchell at her Oak­lands Apart­ment in the Cor­po­rate Area eight years ago have gone miss­ing,” re­ported the Observer.

The items that were taken into po­lice cus­tody and placed in stor­age at the Con­stant Spring Po­lice Station to be used as ex­hibits in the Oak­lands mur­der trial, as it was now be­ing called, had dis­ap­peared, van­ished into thin air. Lead in­ves­ti­ga­tor, De­tec­tive Se­nior Su­per­in­ten­dent Michael Pom­mells, from the Ma­jor In­ves­ti­ga­tion Task Force tes­ti­fied that he could not lo­cate the com­forter, un­der­wear or other ar­ti­cles of cloth­ing that were la­belled and put in safe­keep­ing in the po­lice store­room.

“Pom­mells, dur­ing cros­sex­am­i­na­tion from Causwell’s lawyer, Queen’s Coun­sel Jac­que­line Sa­muels-Brown, said he searched for four hours, but could not lo­cate the items, and that all the ex­hibits in the store­room were scat­tered on the floor be­cause the shelves had bro­ken down.”

Con­trast all this with the rel­a­tively speedy trial and con­vic­tion of Adidja Palmer, aka Vybz Kar­tel, Ja­maica’s top DJ, in 2014.

For a mur­der al­legedly com­mit­ted in 2011, of a vic­tim whose body has yet to be found, Kar­tel was sen­tenced to life im­pris­on­ment on cir­cum­stan­tial ev­i­dence that the po­lice metic­u­lously mo­bilised against him. The zeal with which they ap­proached their task might have sug­gested they were deal­ing with a crime boss like El Chapo or Es­co­bar, whose ap­pre­hen­sion and con­vic­tion would lead to a dras­tic drop in crime. Noth­ing of the sort has fol­lowed, as we know. As for images of Kar­tel, the me­dia used them with aban­don and rel­ish.

Fi­nally, an­other high-pro­file case to keep our eyes on was flagged by none other than for­mer con­trac­tor gen­eral Greg Christie on Twit­ter last week.

“Dear Ja­maica Po­lice Com­mis­sioner,” tweeted Christie: “A body with over 20 stab wounds was re­port­edly found re­cently at a prom­i­nent JA lawyer’s home. Any up­dates? Thank you.”

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