Jamaican Dancehall Star Vybz Kartel’s 2014 Murder Conviction Overturned on Appeal

A London appeals court on Thursday (Mar. 14) overturned the murder conviction of Jamaican dancehall star Vybz Kartel, ruling that the 2014 guilty verdict was tainted by allegations that one juror attempted to bribe others.

The ruling came more than a decade after Kartel — a popular Jamaican artist who has worked with Rihanna, Jay-Z and others — and three others were convicted in Kingston, Jamaica of the 2011 killing of an associate named Clive “Lizard” Williams, whose body was never found.


In the decision, the appeals court ruled that the judge overseeing the 2014 trial had made a “fatal” error: allowing the jury to proceed to a verdict despite news that one of the jurors had attempted to bribe others. That juror was not removed, and soon after the jury returned a guilty verdict.

“There should have been no question of allowing Juror X to continue to serve on the jury,” the appeals court wrote Thursday. “Allowing Juror X to continue to serve on the jury is fatal to the safety of the convictions which followed. This was an infringement of the defendants’ fundamental right to a fair hearing by an independent and impartial court.”

The decision came from the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, a London court that decides last-resort appeals from certain countries belonging to the Commonwealth of Nations, including Jamaica.

The ruling overturned Kartel’s conviction and his 32-year prison sentence, but he could still face a retrial on the same accusations. The appeals court said that Jamaican courts would decide whether such a trial will take place.

Kartel — along with co-defendants Shawn Campbell, Kahira Jones and Andre St John — faced a 64-day jury trial in early 2014 over accusations that they had killed Williams after he failed to return two unlicensed firearms they had lent him.

But on the final day of the trial, the judge was told that Juror X had attempted to “persuade another member of the jury” to acquit the defendants by offering bribes of 500,000 Jamaican dollars (roughly $3,200 US).

After receiving that information, the judge was faced with an unusually difficult choice. Because another juror had already been discharged over a separate issue, the only choice was to end the trial entirely after weeks of testimony or allow the case to continue to a verdict.

“It might have been possible simply to discharge a miscreant juror and to allow the remaining members of the jury to return verdicts [but] that was not possible here,” the appeals court wrote Thursday.

Though the appeals court said it had “considerable sympathy with the judge’s dilemma,” it said the decision to proceed with the problematic juror had been a “serious irregularity” that would result in a “miscarriage of justice” if allowed to stand.

“In coming to this conclusion, the Board is mindful of the very serious consequences which may flow from having to discharge a jury shortly before the end of a long and complex criminal trial,” the appeals court wrote, noting that England has statutes aimed at dealing with such situations.

“However, in the absence of such a provision — and there is no such provision in Jamaica — there will be occasions on which, as in the present case, a court will have no alternative but to discharge a jury and end the trial in order to protect the integrity of the system of trial by jury,” the court wrote.

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