Government To Offer Ward Plea Deal in Cockayne Murder Case

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A day before observing the third Thanksgiving since the murder of her son, the mother of James “Jamie” Cockayne was contacted by the new lead prosecutor in the case — but it left her with little for which to be thankful.

In his first correspondence with the family of Jamie Cockayne — who was stabbed to death in downtown Cruz Bay in June 2007 — Assistant Attorney General Wilson Campbell emailed Jeannie Cockayne on Wednesday, November 25, and informed her that the government had decided to extend a plea deal to the man who was previously convicted of murdering her  son.

 

Following an October 2008 trial before V.I. Superior Court Judge Brenda Hollar, Jahlil Ward, 20, was convicted of first degree murder and weapons charges.

 

That conviction, however, was overturned in July 2009, after the court discovered that prosecutor Assistant Attorney General Renee Gumbs-Carty had not shared a key piece of evidence with the defendant’s attorney.

Ward was scheduled to face first degree murder and weapons charges again in a December retrial. Instead — as the Cockayne family was informed the day before Thanksgiving — he will he have the opportunity to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum of 10 years behind bars.

“This is my first contact with you, and I would like to start by expressing my deepest sympathy for your family,” wrote Campbell. “We have examined the case from various angles, and we believe that the second trial will not mirror the outcome in the first trial for several reasons. Consequently, we have decided that it would be in the best interests of justice to extend  a plea offer of Voluntary Manslaughter to Defendant Ward.”

“That crime carries a potential term of 10 years incarceration,” Campbell wrote. “ If the defendant does not accept the plea offer, we believe that it will be extremely difficult, but not impossible, to obtain a conviction at trial.”

It remained unclear as of press time whether or not Ward would accept the plea offer. If not, Ward was set to face jury selection on Friday, December 11, with his murder retrial starting on Monday, December 14.

Two other St. John men, who were convicted of beating Cockayne hours before his death, are also set to face retrials for assault and weapons charges. While all three defendants’ cases were joined in the first trial, Hollar ruled last week to separate the cases this time around.

Following an October 2008 joined trial before Hollar, Kamal Thomas, 19, and Anselmo Boston, 32, were found guilty of assault and weapons charges and  Ward was convicted of first-degree murder.

About two months after Ward’s conviction was tossed out, Hollar also overturned the convictions of both Thomas and Boston after it was discovered that Cockayne’s family had paid cash rewards to several witnesses who testified during the trial.

All three men were due to face charges again, but this time they were to have at least two separate trials.

Boston and Thomas, who will be retried together on assault and weapons charges, are expected to face a jury sometime between January and March. In his correspondence to the

Cockayne family, however, Campbell did not share his intentions for the cases against Boston or Thomas.

Cockayne, 21, was stabbed to death in front of Fashion Palace just after midnight on June 19, 2007. The Pennsylvania man was stuck eight times including the fatal blow to his femoral artery and bled to death in the street before first responders arrived.

During the trial, prosecutors alleged that the events leading to Cockayne’s death stemmed from an altercation at a Cruz Bay bar earlier in the evening.

Several witnesses testified to seeing Boston and Thomas fight with Cockayne in the Front Yard Bar — located directly next to the V.I. Police Department’s Cruz Bay station —  and then follow him outside and beat him with wooden sticks.

After beating the Pennsylvania man, Boston and Thomas returned to the bar while Ward followed him around the corner and stabbed him to death after a botched robbery, prosecutors contended during the trial.

While prosecutors alleged that all three men set Cockayne’s death in motion, jury members were convinced that Ward acted alone in the murder.

In the months following the murder, Cockayne’s parents accused the VIPD of inaction and appeared on several national news programs, including CNN’s Larry King Live, lambasting local police.

Thomas and Boston were arrested in August 2007 and Ward was apprehended almost a year later in June 2008, when he returned to the territory from the mainland.

The three St. John men remain in jail pending their retrials or plea deal. Ward has been incarcerated since his 2008 arrest and Thomas and Boston have been locked up since their July 2009 sentencings.