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Labourer suffer near two years in prison on false accusation of buggery

DNA shows boy was molested by a family member

BY PAUL HENRY Co-ordinator — Crime/Court Desk henryp@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, February 03, 2013    

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HE tried to control his shaking leg as he sat taking slow, easy breaths. But try as he might, Christopher Murray was a bundle of nerves.

The 8 x 12-foot office in which he was seated looked as sterile as a clinic — a filing cabinet against bare, cream-coloured walls; two computers; and a 2012 calendar. A thin glass wall attached to a wooden counter separated him from the two warders manning the Appeal and Bail Unit of the Tower Street Adult Correctional Facility.

It is July 30 and he is in his second year of a seven-year sentence for buggery and indecent assault that was imposed in October 2010. He had filed an appeal that was heard a few days before and was anxiously awaiting the ruling. His attorney, Gladstone Wilson, had vowed to fight the case. He strongly believed that Murray, a family man and a Christian, who had no previous brush with the law, had been framed and failed by the justice system. Murray, too, had told him to fight the conviction “even if it took a hundred years”.

Just a few minutes earlier, Murray said he had got in from classes on the premises and was heading to his cell for final lockdown when a voice crackled over the public address system, summoning him to the appeal and bail offices. His lanky, six-foot frame froze for a moment as inmates hustled about him, heading to their respective cells. He set his books down when a warder appeared. “Christopher Murray,” he said, “they need you at the office”.

Inside the room, Murray said he sat with the anxiety of a schoolboy summoned to the principal’s office for punishment. “You know why we called you here, Mr Murray?” one of the warders said, speaking through the opening of the glass wall.

“I have an idea,” he responded. “It’s about my appeal?”

“Yes,” the warder said.

Murray said his mind raced. What if his appeal had been turned down? He faced the possibility of five more years in prison for a crime he insisted he never committed. Five more years away from his two young children. Five more years of a segregated existence on Special Block, which houses homosexuals and convicted child molesters. Five more years of living with the fear of being attacked by inmates who believe that men like him should not continue to breathe the same air they do.

The 34-year-old, who was born into a life of poverty in Westmoreland, seemed destined to a life of hardship and misfortune. Murray admitted that he dropped out of Godfrey Stewart High School in the early 1990s, after just two years. At another institution, he dropped out after only a year. Unskilled and uneducated, he held a string of menial jobs, including gardening.

His highest-paying job, he said, was a $40,000-per-month gig as a security guard, which he lost in 2007. This was a big blow for Murray, whose son was born that same year and he already had a daughter who was three years old.

He told the Jamaica Observer that his children’s mother, who was no longer with him, frequently threatened to take him to court for child support, but he would charm her sufficiently until he had money for the kids, which wasn’t frequently.

As the summer of 2007 wound down, Murray said he found employment as a labourer at the Salvation Army church along Great George Street in his hometown of Savanna-la-Mar. However, he would come to regret the day he set foot there.

That Monday morning, in August, Murray said he got up before the sun lit the morning sky. He was intent on walking the town of Savanna-la-Mar to find work. He dressed and left his one-room dwelling without breakfast, as, he said, there was no food in the house. He soon came upon the church, which was being renovated, and was hired by the captain (or pastor) as a labourer at $1,400 per day.

The work to be done was extensive, which meant a steady income for some time to come. Murray said he was at the site from Sunday to Sunday.

The new year saw him attending the church frequently. He felt a sense of belonging, he said, and decided that this was where he should be. Over time, Murray said he was made a soldier at the church, joined the choir and became close with the captain’s wife, their eight-year-old son — a talented dramatist who never forgot his lines — and their young daughter.

Murray soon started doing yard work at the family’s home. At the same time, he was making strides in his faith, and in 2009 the captain started taking him into the mission field. But that same year, a strain was placed on the relationship, Murray said, as the captain suspected he was involved in a break-in at the church and confronted him about it. Murray said he denied any involvement.

By June of that year, a new roof and new doors and windows were installed on the church. Murray told the Sunday Observer that on the afternoon of June 5, he was at the front of the church painting when the captain pulled out of the churchyard in his van, stopped at the gate and called him.

“Come with me in the van,” Murray recalled the captain, a native of Africa, saying to him in a stern tone.

Murray said he could tell that something was amiss. He set down his brush and walked over to the van. Murray related the conversation between them.

“Chris,” the captain said, “where were you?”

“What?” Murray said.

“Chris, I can’t believe what you have done.”

“What?” Murray asked, confused. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“We have to go to the station,” the captain said. “My son just told me that you molested him.”

“Mi nuh know what you talking about,” Murray responded.

“Come and let’s find out,” the captain said. Murray said he opened the minivan door, got in and the captain set off for the close-by Savanna-la-Mar Police Station. Murray said that during the drive, the captain levelled more accusations at him, saying that he betrayed his trust and that of his family.

Murray, however, said he denied the accusations, and told the captain: “Let’s go clear up this whole issue.”

At the station’s sex crime unit, the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse, the captain made a complaint to a Detective Constable Debbie Mitchell. Murray said he again denied the allegations. Mitchell, he said, sent for the boy, who told her that Murray had molested him.

Murray said that as tears rolled down his cheeks he asked the boy “Why are you lying?”

He said the detective constable told him that he was being held on suspicion of buggery. He sat, numb and speechless, feeling as if he was outside his body observing what was happening to him.

He said he agreed to a swab of his penis and mouth and for blood to be taken from him at the Savanna-la-Mar Hospital. Samples were also taken from the boy. The complainant was also examined for signs of abuse.

Murray was arrested and charged the following day with three counts of indecent assault and one count of buggery.

Word of the charges against Murray started spreading at the Savanna-la-Mar police lock-up and inmates, he said, shouted expletive-laced death threats at him. He cried bitterly, he said, but a policeman told him not to worry because he would be kept in seclusion. After three days, he was transferred to the nearby Whithorn Police Station.

For most of his seven months at Whithorn — where he earned the moniker Preacher for his daily devotions, prayer life, and for exhorting inmates to give their lives to God — Murray managed a peaceful existence by lying to fellow inmates about the real reason for his arrest. Still, he remained jittery.

One day, during his sixth month in custody, Murray was resting on his bunk when a menacing cellmate said an inmate from the Savanna-la- Mar Police Station told him at court that he was gay. Fear gripped Murray, but he tried to remain calm. “Boy, mi nuh know nothing ’bout that,” he recounted that he told the inmate with an uneasy laugh.

A few days later another cellmate — a man who was on a charge of murder — approached him holding a push broom. “Me go court today enuh, and the man dem tell me say a you. Mi a go kill you enuh b...y boy,” he recalled the inmate saying.

“Mi no know weh you a talk ’bout,” Murray said, and added an expletive.

“A who you a talk to?” the inmate demanded.

Murray said that before he could respond, he felt a sharp blow. Blood ran down his face and into his eyes and his mouth. For a brief moment he felt dazed. His antagonist was about to strike again when Murray knocked him back with a few fists. The other inmates were now spectators in Murray’s battle for survival, a fight, he said, that was as eerily silent as a 1920s motion picture.

The men were now wrestling. Murray had lost the upper hand, his strength fading fast from loss of blood. He felt himself drifting out of consciousness and thought that he would die. But the other four inmates jumped in and broke up the fight. “A idiot thing you a gwaan wid, man,” Murray recalled one inmate scolding the attacker. “If you even hear anything ’bout the man, you no have no proof.”

Murray was offered bail, but it was revoked in 2010 when his case was transferred to the Home Circuit Court in Kingston for trial. He was housed at the Half-Way Tree Police Station lock-up, where he was advised by the cop who processed him to keep the allegations to himself. “You have to give them a story and make sure you stick with it,” Murray said the policeman told him.

Murray responded, “I know. I know how people react to that kind of accusation.”

As per jailhouse ritual, the inmates wanted to know what the new man was in for, and they drew close to him like campers gathered around a fire at night to trade tales. He told them that he had bought a car that happened to be stolen from its previous owner. One after the other, the men related their story.

He and the men grew close, he said, and he held daily devotions and reasoned with them about God. A week after his arrival, a man accused of sexually assaulting a boy was brought in. The allegations had spread throughout the cell and the men were threatening to tear him apart.

“Hey raper bwoy...,” an inmate said using expletives, “a kill we a go kill you.” The inmates, Murray said, closed in and were about to attack the cowering man when he (Murray) stepped in. “Listen me, people can be accused. You not sure if dem do anything,” Murray said he told them.

But the men were not swayed. It didn’t help either that the man came out tearfully confessing his deed. Murray said he continued his plea: “Just easy, man. A man can mek mistake. Him might do something, but him admit say him wrong. Just give him a chance.”

The men, he said, finally backed down.

Murray went on trial for two days, starting on October 27, with Wilson as his attorney. First to take the stand was the complainant, now 11 years old. He testified during the incamera proceedings that Murray indecently assaulted him between February 2008 and April 2009 and that he buggered him in an unfinished bathroom on the church premises on June 5, 2009.

Asked under cross-examination by Wilson if he was protecting anyone, the boy said ‘yes’. Part of the defence was that Murray was being framed and that it was the father who suggested to the boy on June 5 that Murray was his molester.

The boy’s mother told jurors that her suspicion was aroused after noticing how dishevelled her son appeared when he came running into the office after she called him. The boy’s father testified that he saw Murray at the unfinished bathroom his son was running from. But he said, under cross-examination, that he did not tell that to the police.

Dr Giri Seshaheeri, who examined both Murray and the complainant at the hospital on June 5, testified that the boy’s anus was dilated. He saw signs of mild bruising and opined that there was a high possibility of sexual abuse.

Analyst Sheron Brydson, who heads the DNA Unit of the Government Forensic Lab, was called by the defence. She testified that the swab of Murray’s penis did not show a mixing of his DNA profile with that of the boy’s. On the other hand, she said that the concentration of semen found inside the complainant was too low to generate a DNA profile. She said under cross-examination that without the profile she could neither include nor exclude Murray as the boy’s molester.

Murray gave an unsworn statement from the prisoners’ dock in which he denied the allegations.

The seven jurors retired at 12:20 on October 28. Murray said he made a silent prayer, asking God for his freedom. The jurors returned at 3 o’clock with the verdict: not guilty on two counts of indecent assault, but guilty on the third count and the buggery charge.

Murray recalled shivering like a bare-chested man in sub-zero temperatures. He couldn’t believe what had just happened. He said he determined then that the captain and his family would pay with their lives. Sentencing came shortly after, but Murray said he didn’t hear what was said. He was blanked out. He didn’t hear the plea in mitigation on his behalf. He didn’t hear the sentence nor did he hear the reprimand from Justice Ingrid Mangatal for “destroying” the complainant. Mangatal also ordered psychiatric treatment to help him overcome “this kind of problem”.

He was handcuffed and led away to the holding area where Wilson came to see him and explained the sentence and said he would be appealing the verdict.

At the Tower Street Adult Correctional Facility, Murray was placed in a cell with three others on Special Block and over time learnt that the rules of survival were summed up in one word: segregation. In the tuck shop, there are two lines; one for regular inmates and one for inmates from ‘Special’. There is also segregation during worship, as inmates from Special Block are not allowed to sit in the front pew at the chapel. He also found that regulars are tended to first at the doctor.

Murray said he was troubled by this system, but came to appreciate its necessity. He had not been in any altercation with regular inmates but he had frequent fights, some bloody, with his cellmates for stealing or damaging his belonging.

By this time, his daughter, now nine years old, and son, three, were querying his whereabouts, he said, adding that he too, had longed to see and speak with them. So one day, after about three months of incarceration, he placed a call to their mother from a cellular phone, which is illegal to possess in prison.

“Daddy, where are you?” he said his daughter asked.

“Daddy is somewhere working,” Murray replied.

“Daddy, when am I going to see you?”

He felt the tears coming on.

“I don’t know when I’m going to see you, baby.” A lump formed in his throat.

“All right,” the girl said.

“Daddy, I love you and hope to see you soon.”

Murray hung up, erupting into tears and had to be consoled by his cellmates.

He seldom spoke with them after that, he told the Sunday Observer, electing instead to send messages through their mother, as subsequent conversations ended with him in tears. It troubled him, too, having to lie to the children.

Meanwhile, Wilson had filed the appeal against Murray’s conviction and sentence and asked the court to hear fresh evidence in the matter. The new evidence was a report by Professor Wayne McLaughlin, the director of Caribbean Genetics and head of the Department of Basic Medical Science at the University of the West Indies, who had in 2011 conducted a Y-STR test of the samples taken from Murray and the complainant in 2009.

The test was done to determine whether traces of Murray’s Y-chromosome would be found on the anal swab taken from the complainant. This test is significantly more sensitive than the analysis conducted for the trial. The hearing in the Court of Appeal was subsequently held on July 23, 2012.

According to Murray, the thought of revenge upon the captain and his family had consumed his every waking moment, but with time and counselling he realised that it was useless harbouring such bitterness. The rekindling of his faith, he said, was also instrumental in his decision to forgive.

Now, two years after being convicted, Murray sat in the appeal and bail offices hoping that his nightmare would be over. But, he thought, even if he were freed, there would always be this stain on his reputation.

The warder picked up Murray’s gaze and held it.

“What were you wishing would happen?” Murray said the warder asked.

“My freedom,” Murray said, “and that I would go home”.

“Well,” the warder said, “that’s exactly what’s going to happen. The Court of Appeal just granted your leave for appeal and you are going home”.

His eyes, he said, welled up. He couldn’t wait to leave. He left the office thinking, ‘Free at last; after all this time’.

Downstairs, he saw Wilson, who had come to relay the court’s decision. “You got the news already?” the attorney asked.

“Yes, sir,” Murray gushed. He took his last walk back to Special Block and readied himself to leave. Through tears he delivered the news to his cellmates. They told him to make a better life for himself. He never had much to pack, just a suit of clothes that he stuffed in a plastic bag.

Wilson waited in his motor vehicle outside for Murray. After a while, he emerged from the prison, plastic bag in hand, and slipped into the passenger seat. During the journey from the downtown Kingston facility to Half-Way Tree, the men spoke about many things, including Murray’s future plans. He was still processing everything.

“You see what dem do to me, Mr Wilson?” Murray said at one point. He was experiencing a whirlwind of emotions. His mood swung from that of elation and relief, to anger. He felt victimised and was of the view that the State should be made to pay for his suffering.

Murray did not return home to Westmoreland, but stayed with his brother in Portmore, St Catherine where he learnt that his father had passed away due to illhealth.

I visited him at his brother’s small, rented room in August last year. Even though he missed his children, and they have asked him to visit them, he was reluctant to go because he feared what the reception might be. He wanted to be someplace where no one knew about his past.

“Mi life mash up,” he told the Sunday Observer in a dejected tone. He was trying to get a job, but nothing had materialised.

In January this year he called. He sounded upbeat as he told this reporter that he still hadn’t landed a job but had started his own business selling cooked food. He said he had visited his children twice, and was happy he did.

During the hearing in the appellate court, Professor McLaughlin testified that his analysis concluded that the DNA found on the anal swab wasn’t that of Murray’s.

Court records show this exchange between Wilson and the professor:

Wilson: “You told us earlier that the male chromosome passes through the lineage from father to son and from grandfather and it does not change.”

McLaughlin: “Yes.”

Wilson: “Would it be scientifically correct to conclude that the results you found in the anal swab are consistent with a family connection?”

McLaughlin: “As I mentioned earlier it’s a lineage, so definitely for me here.”

The captain and his family moved back to their home country following Murray’s conviction.

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