Witness Testimony Differs; No Chase At Sea

Javon Liburd, Staff Reporter | 2 Opinions
Published: May 04, 2017 7:55 am AST
Tarik Aaron and Leshaughn Smith at court Thursday February 4, 2016
Photo Credit: Melissa Edwards/BVI Platinum News
The Crown may have exaggerated the facts in a case against Tarik Aaron and Leshaugn Smith, where both men are facing a charge of possession of a controlled drug, with intent to supply to another.

On February 3, 2016, both men were arrested after they were allegedly found at sea with $24M worth of cocaine. Both men pleaded not guilty to the charge and have denied having any knowledge of the drugs found.

As the matter proceeded to trial yesterday, May 3 at the Magistrate’s Court, expert witness in the matter, Alejandro Cadova, Supervisor, Boat Captain and Boarding Officer with the United States Coast Guard, gave his recollection of the night in question.

He shared that while in the middle of a routine patrol around the British Virgin Islands, a joint operation with the USVI and BVI, a boat which occupied the defendants was spotted in the distance in the Narrow, which was highlighted to be a point between Tortola and St. John, USVI.

Officer Cadova noted that the boat was motionless, with both men at the back of the boat, and its tip pointing towards St. Thomas.

This caught the attention of the defense attorneys, Mrs. Valerie Stephens-Gordon and Ms. Stacey Abel, who are representing Smith, and Mr. Patrick Thomson, who is representing Aaron.

In cross-examination, the defense attorneys took time to pinpoint the facts of the witness, as he repeated that when the boat was spotted, it was motionless.

This statement in the testimony of the witness differs from the Crown’s original facts, where they initially highlighted that a chase occurred between the men and the officers.

During the first appearance in this matter, Senior Crown Counsel Garcia Kirt Kelly, in laying out the allegations, stated that Aaron and Smith were both occupants of a 30-foot silver, white and blue renegade speed boat on the night in question. He said Aaron was the captain.

Kelly had further indicated that sometime around 10:00 pm, the lawmen saw the speed boat occupied by the two defendants, heading towards Thatch Island, noting that the officers then engaged the vessel in a chase. He added that the officers also used flashlights, but the vessel continued to flee.

Meanwhile, Officer Cadova, further in his testimony, noted that he was not sure why the boat was at a standstill, but learnt soon after that Aaron and Smith had encountered issues with their vessel and its engine.

Cadova told the court that the boat was spotted because of a light it emitted, adding that it diminished moments after.

Having investigated the vessel, Cadova told the court that he and his crew saw debris in the water 20 feet away from the boat the men occupied. He said that the debris was in the form of bricks, in a box and in a One Mart bag that was without straps.

He further informed the court that he managed to retrieve at least 24 of the bricks, which he highlighted to contain cocaine.

The court also heard that during further investigations by the officers, straps were found onboard the vessel occupied by the men. The straps were noted to be a match for the strapless One Mart bag found in the water nearby their vessel.

Both men denied having knowledge of the alleged drugs found in the water, as well as the straps that were allegedly found on the boat

The defense questioned the officer's claim, where he stated that the men were seen at the back of the boat just standing. Mrs. Stephens-Gordon stated that the men were not standing, but rather attempting to fix the engine of the boat.

She also suggested that the boat was not located in the Little Thatch area as identified by the officer, but rather it was in the vicinity of Frenchmans Cay.

Expert Too Expensive

An officer of the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force had informed the court that it would be too expensive to bring in an expert from the United States to offer evidence on the strap found on the boat.

The straps and the bag were sent overseas to a specialist, to assess whether or not they are a match.

Prosecution also told the court that to facilitate the expert via video conference will also be a very expensive venture.

The Crown attempted to enter into evidence the report from the expert on the items, but this was quickly challenged by the defense, who argued that the report produced by the expert is only admissible if the analyst gives his expert evidence to the court in person, or via video link.

Senior Magistrate Tamia Richards is expected to hand down a ruling on this matter on another date.

Trial for this matter will continue on June 21.

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