What was perhaps one of the most sensational murder cases in recent years in Belize, ended today. Security was tight and the media was stripped of their cell phones as they entered the courtroom of Justice Antoinette Moore in Belmopan. Renee Trujillo was on hand to hear the judgement and filed the following report.
Renee Trujillo, Love FM News: At 11:35 this morning Justice Antoinette Moore rendered a verdict of guilty against the five men accused of killing Pastor Lewleyn Lucas on July 15 2016. The men, William “Danny” Mason, Ashton Vanegas, Keiron Fernandez, Terrence Fernandez and Earnest Castillo stood up one by one as they were read out a verdict of guilty. Attorney Norman Rodriguez represented Ashton Vanegas. Attorney Brian Neal represented Keiron Fernandez, they both spoke to the media some minutes after the verdict.
Norman Rodriguez, Attorney: “I will not say surprised but I thought the verdict would have gone differently for at least one or two of the accused.”
Renee Trujillo, Love FM News: Why is that?
Norman Rodriguez, Attorney for Ashton Vanegas: The evidence but then I am not the judge and the judge is the one who judges so I cannot stand here and give opinion. As an attorney I have to conform to the rules that we follow and what the law says. The law says that you go into a court, you’re charged for a crime you go before the court, the judge gives her decision after all the evidence has been presented and you decide if you want to take it to a higher level to have a different set of judges look at what happened.
Bryan Neal, Attorney for Keiron Fernandez: “I feel for my client. He has been convicted of a very serious offense, the court has obviously considerd all the evidence and in it’s view all five defendants have now been found guilty of murder. From my understanding of her summary ruling just now, accepted almost all of the prosecution’s facts and that is her right to do.”
Renee Trujillo, Love FM News: A handful of family members for Pastor Lucas sat in the courtroom wearing shirts in memory of the pastor. After the judge delivered her decisions Keisia Usher, Pastor Lucas’ niece spoke to the media saying they had faith that this would have been the outcome.
Keisia Usher, Niece: “We’re just happy that it’s all over now and we got the justice we know he deserved. I am very happy and like my mom always says God is in control and we knew that this would have happened, we were convinced that my uncle would have received justice because of the person he was.”
Renee Trujillo, Love FM News: For the family justice has been served but for the five men they are not satisfied. According to the attorneys they have three weeks to decide for an appeal.
Norman Rodriguez, Attorney:”If it goes to a higher court there will be grounds of appeal and those grounds will say that – well there will be something in the way the decision was made why it would go. As an attorney I would not go to one of the higher courts if I don’t believe that you have a chance of getting the conviction overturned.”
Reporter: Do you believe you have a chance for that to happen?
Norman Rodriguez, Attorney: “If I believe? I think we would want to look more closely at the evidence, consult with each other as attorney and then we will determine. As for now I cannot say until my client has instructed me that he wishes to take it further.
Bryan Neal, Attorney for Keiron Fernandez: “Any good lawyer is to indicate to their client that they might be convicted or you can be acquitted and we had discussed that. I don’t want to get into whether he is not, that is for him, you will know within twenty one days of the conviction the Court of Appeal Act requires him to file a notice and I believe he seems to want to retain counsel. I haven’t been retained for the appeal I was only appointed by the court but it seems from my assessment that he might want to appeal the decision, he’s not satisfied.”
Renee Trujillo, Love FM News: Unlike the year 2016 when many gathered at the court house for the men’s arraignment and the first few hearings, very few persons stood outside in anticipation of the judges decision today. Among the few were several representatives of the opposition party, they gave their sentiments on the outcome.
Kareem Musa, PUP, Caribbean Shores Area Representative: “We have received justice today and it sends a clear signal that crimes like this will not be tolerated because often times people are quick to condemn the justice system but today I can safely say that we have received justice.”
Rodwell Ferguson, PUP Standard Bearer: “I believe the Belizean people are quite happy and so we can sleep quite well tonight that justice has prevailed.”
Dr.Louis Zabaneh: “We are pleased that our justice system has functioned in this case especially for all Belizeans across the country who are concerned that we cannot get justice in this setting. This is a good day for us , we must be vigilant because really in an environment of corruption crime and violence fester and so we hope that the people can stand up and protect our democracy and ensure that our institutions function well.”
Oscar Mira, PUP Standard Bearer: “I must commend the investigative team, I must commend the DPP I must commend all those technicians who did their job well and who were able to put in their part to get this conviction today.”
Renee Trujillo, Love FM News: Pastor Lewelyn Lucas was killed on July 15 2016. His severed head was found on ice in a bucket in the pan of Mason’s pick up truck. Police were reportedly following a case of burglary in Belmopan which led them to the discovery. Justice Antoinette Moore has deferred sentencing for a later date.
Prior to delivering the guilty verdict, Justice Antoinette Moore gave a summary judgement. She explained that in order for the court to reach a decision there had to be five elements established and proven. Those five elements were: the prosecution had to prove that Llewellyn Lucas was indeed dead. The decapitated head along with the family’s identification of the remains, were enough for the judge. The second element was death by harm. According to Justice Moore while there was no corpse to prove what the cause of death was, the prosecution presented precedence and a strong argument along with the forensic report to confirm that Pastor Lucas was harmed. The third element is collusion or joint enterprise. While the defence counsel argued that they were not in control of the vehicle that carried the head, Justice Moore did not allow that argument to stand as portions of the surveillance footage did show that the five men participated in getting the deceased into a vehicle and driving away the car that the victim initially arrived in. The fourth element was intent to kill and the fifth element was that the killing was without lawful justification. Justice Moore went into length explaining why she was satisfied that each element was proven. Following her summary judgement, court was adjourned for about fifteen minutes. Upon reconvening, Justice Moore looked at four main points presented by the defence counsel and explained why they did not carry weight in her decision. The arguments by the defence counsel had to do with the jurisdiction, the handling of evidence and cross contamination as well as not being in control of the vehicle and the clarity of the surveillance footage. Justice Moore went on to explain that when all evidence came together, it made the prosecution’s case extremely strong and that even if one piece of evidence was struck out or excluded, the case would still remain strong. She then concluded that there was a mountain of reliable and probative evidence against the accused men. In conclusion, Justice Moore commended the police and the investigating officer, Holly Vasquez, in acting swiftly in collecting surveillance footage and evidence in order to build the case. As we noted earlier, Justice Moore has deferred sentencing to a later date. The Minister of National Security John Saldivar, whose name was dragged out in the early days of the Mason trial as being a close associate to Mason, issued a release on the verdict. The release reads, quote, “I want to first thank the Almighty for working through his instruments here on earth to secure this clear and resounding victory for the Lucas family and all the friends of Pastor Llewelyn Lucas. Justice has been served. I also want to thank the Director of Public Prosecution and her staff, the investigators of the Police Department, the Scenes of Crimes Technicians, the witnesses, and all who played a part in securing this guilty verdict. The perpetrators of this heinous crime have been brought to justice. Though the verdict cannot bring back Llewelyn, it is my hope that the family can find some solace in this triumph of our justice system. Let us now work on the way forward to making our country more secure and prosperous.” End of quote.