High court vacates conviction of gunshot victim on firearm charge
Published: September 18, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - The V.I. Supreme Court has reversed the conviction of a gunshot victim whom police subsequently charged with "aiding and abetting in the unlawful possession of a firearm" because a gun was found in the car he was driving when an assailant opened fire on him.
A jury convicted Jamal Todman, 30, of St. Thomas of the single criminal charge several months after a May 1, 2009, incident that sent Todman to the hospital with gunshot wounds to his chest, arms and neck.
Todman was then sentenced to 15 years imprisonment with all but three years suspended. He then appealed the matter, according to the Supreme Court opinion published Friday.
In December 2011, a jury found Todman not guilty of first-degree murder and assault charges when he was tried in connection with a shooting in December 2008 behind the Tutu Park Mall that left Levi Benjamin, 28, and Antonio Escobar, 22, dead.
Todman's girlfriend, Tiffany Smith-Reynolds, had met with him in Estate Bovoni on May 1, 2009, after he attended the horse races at Clinton E. Phipps Racetrack. Todman drove her car away from the racetrack, encountering a traffic jam because of the crowds at the track.
The couple told investigators that they picked up a friend of Todman's named Marley, but prosecutors later said the two had concocted the passenger to pin ownership of the unlawful gun on him, according to the Supreme Court's opinion.
At some point, a man approached the car's driver's side window and pointed a gun at Todman's chest, and an eyewitness reported seeing three men run up to the car and at least two men shooting at Todman, according to the Supreme Court's opinion.
Todman told investigators he struggled with the gunman and grabbed hold of the gun, which went off on him. Smith-Reynolds drove Todman to Schneider Hospital for treatment, and a gun holster was found on clothing that was stripped off Todman at the hospital, according to court documents. Police also found a denim bag containing ammunition and a firearm with its hammer in a jammed position in Smith's car, according to court documents.
Police determined that the gun would have fit in Todman's holster and that the ammunition in the bag was also compatible with the firearm, the opinion states.
Neither Todman nor Smith-Reynolds possessed a license to possess a firearm in the Virgin Islands, and authorities testified to that at Todman's trial for aiding and abetting in the unlawful possession of a firearm.
Smith-Reynolds was charged with unauthorized possession of stolen property and unauthorized possession of a firearm following the incident, but both charges were dismissed with prejudice, the opinion states.
The Supreme Court found that evidence was presented to reasonably suppose that Todman himself possessed the unlawful weapon, but as he was charged as an aider and abettor, instead of as a principal, the prosecution failed to prove all of the elements of that charge, the opinion states.
"The charging of Todman as an aider and abettor when all the evidence demonstrated that he was possibly the primary actor, made the proceedings unnecessarily confusing, and imposed specific burdens of proof upon the People that were not satisfied by the evidence offered at this trial," the opinion states.
Because the jury was given specific instructions to find that Todman aided and abetted, that is, that he knew of the possession of an unauthorized firearm by another person and facilitated it as opposed to having control over the gun himself while in his girlfriend's car, the evidence presented was not consistent with Todman's conviction, according to the opinion.
"It is apparent from the trial record that the exasperating discrepancy and variance between the offenses charged in the amended information and the proof actually offered at trial caused a number of conflicts and concerns," Supreme Court Associate Justice Ive Swan wrote.
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