BVI News

Too expensive to get expert – ‘Evidence’ at risk

Tarik Aaron and Leshaughn Smith. Fb photos

A police officer has told the Magistrate’s Court that it would be too expensive to have an expert witness flown from the United States to testify about bag straps that prosecutors want to become evidence in a drug case against Tarik Aaron and Leshaughn Smith.

The court was also told by the prosecution that it would be too expensive to accommodate the expert via video conferencing.

Those claims were made yesterday (May 2) when the drug trial got underway, moments after both Aaron and Smith pleaded not guilty to possession of 24 kilograms of cocaine with intent to supply to another.

The men were implicated after police allegedly discovered the cocaine in a strapless ‘OneMart’ bag at sea. It is alleged that police found two identical bag straps aboard a vessel in which Aaron and Smith were travelling at the time. Those straps are suspected to be the ones that are missing from the ‘OneMart’ bag that allegedly contained the cocaine.

When police officer Wendell Ballentine took to the witness stand yesterday, he told the court that the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force (RVIPF) has received an analyst report, detailing whether the said ‘OneMart’ bag and the straps are matching items.

Prosecuting attorney Garcia Kelly then attempted to enter the expert’s report into evidence. He was met with objection from by the accused men’s attorneys.

Attorney-at-law Patrick Thompson is representing Aaron, while Valerie Stephens-Gordon and Stacy Abel are both representing Smith.

The defence attorneys argued that the report from the expert can only be entered into evidence if the overseas-based analyst gives his expert evidence to the court, as it relates to the findings.

They also argued that the defence must me given an opportunity to question the analyst.

However, police officer Ballentine, as mentioned earlier, told the court that it would be an expensive venture to have the said analyst flown from the United Stated to give evidence.

He noted that the RVIPF would incur expenses such air fares, hotel accommodation, and compensation to have the analyst appear as an expert witness.

The court was further told that receiving expert evidence via video conferencing is also out of the question as that, too, would be expensive.

The defence attorneys said those reasons are unacceptable. They further argued that it would be prejudicial to their clients if the United States-based analyst does not testify in the trial.

Magistrate Richards is expected to give a ruling on that matter when the trial resumes today, May 3.

Reportedly tried to escape

It is alleged that, on February 2 last year, members of the BVI Customs as well as the US Customs and Border Patrol conducted an at-sea operation after they spotted a vessel in the waters shortly before 10pm.

Reports were that the accused men were travelling in a 30-foot Renegade speed boat captained by Aaron.

The accused men allegedly made attempts to flee, but were eventually stopped. Parcels containing cocaine were spotted in the water about seven feet away from them, the prosecution claimed.

It added that the boat, with the two accused, was the only one seen in the waters at the time.

During a search of the vessel, law enforcers reportedly found two straps from a ‘OneMart’ bag. It is alleged that a ‘OneMart’ bag without straps was also found at sea with the cocaine.

Smith and Aaron, who were arrested and charged, have denied knowledge of the cocaine found.

Meanwhile, Aaron said he did not know anything about the bag straps allegedly discovered on the boat.

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