For the second time, Jahlil Ward has been convicted in V.I. Superior Court of stabbing to death Jamie Cockayne.
A very different trial from his first ended with a slightly different verdict on Friday, December 18, with jurors finding the 22-year-old Gifft Hill man guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree assault and a weapons offense.
By rejecting first-degree murder, the jury decided prosecutors had not proved Ward planned to kill Cockayne, 21, when he followed the Pennsylvania man up the hill from Front Yard bar just after midnight on June 19, 2007 and stabbed him seven times.
Ward was convicted of first-degree murder in October 2008 after standing trial with former codefendants Kamal Thomas and Anselmo Boston. Judge Brenda Hollar threw out that verdict in July after evidence surfaced that a witness statement had not been provided to Ward’s attorneys.
The second time around, Ward sat as the sole defendant, listening to four people who have known him for much of his life provide the bulk of the case against him.
Glanville “Shark” Frazer testified that on the night of the murder, Ward knocked on his door around midnight, barged into his house and asked for a ride to Estate Pastory.
Ward held his shirt in his hand, had blood speckles on his white sneakers and said he “just had a fight with a white boy,” according to Frazer.
Jo’Nique Clendinen, Frazer’s girlfriend and Ward’s cousin, told jurors she opened the door that night after Ward came knocking and she woke Frazer up.
Asante Leslie, the defendant’s 17-year-old former girlfriend, and Jamal Jackson, Ward’s cousin, both testified they heard Ward admit to the stabbing in the days after Cockayne was killed.
Leslie said Ward showed her a knife and told her it was the murder weapon. Jackson said he asked Ward during St. John July 4th Celebration if he killed Cockayne, and Ward described the fight that preceded the stabbing.
“He admitted it because he did it,” Assistant Attorney General Courtney Reese said in his opening statement.
Ward’s attorney, Michael Quinn, pointed to discrepancies in the four stories when cross-examining those witnesses and argued each had motive to fabricate their testimony.
Quinn reminded the jury it was Kamal Thomas’ legal team — attorney Michael Joseph and investigator David Jackson — who first accused Ward of the crime and who provided authorities with “a pretty convenient scapegoat” to deflect attention from their own client.
Quinn also focused on a statement from a man named Daryl Martens which the defense attorney claims was intentionally withheld from him before the first trial.
Martens was never located, but testimony in regard to him led to some combative exchanges in the courtroom.
On Tuesday, December 15, Quinn called to the witness stand Assistant Attorney General Renee Gumbs-Carty, who prosecuted Ward during the first trial.
Gumbs-Carty said Martens visited her office and told prosecutors he heard Kamal Thomas confess to the murder while the two were locked up together in jail. She said she also received a report that was passed from the Cockayne family’s attorney to the FBI identifying Martens as a potential witness against Thomas.
Out of almost 500 pages of discovery material turned over to Quinn, that document was the only one missing, Gumbs-Carty conceded. But the prosecutor said it would have been available to Quinn if he had come to view files at the Justice Department’s office.
Gumbs-Carty characterized Marten’s information as “suspect,” but said she had unsuccessfully tried to subpoena him as a prosecution witness before the first trial.
Later in the trial, Quinn called his associate, Ashlee Gray Johnson, to tell jurors about the unsuccessful effort to locate the missing witness. More heated exchanges regarding the prosecution’s integrity followed as Assistant Attorney General Claude Walker cross-examined the defense attorney.
Quinn also called several law enforcement witnesses who testified for the government in the first trial. He elicited testimony from them about the case they originally built against Thomas and Boston, and the abrupt reformulation of the crime theory after Ward was arrested almost a year later.
Thomas and Boston admitted to an altercation with Cockayne at Front Yard bar, next door to the police department’s Jurgen Command, after the Pennsylvania man kicked Boston’s girlfriend’s jeep.
Witnesses saw Thomas, Boston and an unidentified third man chasing Cockayne up the hill from Front Yard bar, but their attack broke off when a woman who was driving by honked her car horn and threatened to call police. The next time anybody saw Jamie Cockayne, he was coming out from behind a wooden construction partition drenched in his own blood and yelling at a fleeing attacker.
Thomas and Boston were arrested in the following months, after the case garnered national media attention. At that time, Ward was in the V.I. Justice Department’s witness protection program; he was sent to the U.S. Mainland after testifying against a man who shot him on St. John in 2006.
Despite the complexities of the case, “the evidence is overwhelming that the defendant murdered Jamie Cockayne,” Walker said in his closing argument.
Walker said Ward followed Cockayne to the Fashion Palace for three reasons: the young man was white, he had money and he was physically well-built. The only reason Cockayne died with his money still on him was because he was a fighter and would not give in to his attacker, Walker said.
Quinn used his final opportunity to talk to the jury to methodically dissect the testimony of all major witnesses and argue the prosecution’s lack of integrity in how they handled the case, especially during the first trial. He accused prosecutors of dishonesty and of violating Ward’s constitutional rights by withholding evidence, and police of bungling the case while being pressured by media attention spurred by the victim’s frustrated family.
The original charges leveled against Thomas and Boston should cast doubt on the case against Ward, Quinn argued. He said a conviction would be “a grave injustice.”
On Thursday evening, December 17, after deliberating all afternoon, the jury informed Judge Hollar they could not reach a verdict. Hollar urged them to continue working the next day. They returned with their verdict shortly after lunch.
Thomas and Boston also have new trials pending. The two were acquitted of murder in the first trial, but both convicted of third-degree assaults against Cockayne. Hollar recently threw out those verdicts after learning that the victim’s family paid two government witnesses.
The Cockaynes explain the two $5,000 payments as reward money that they had publicly offered.