Drug Case Weak--UK Lawyer; Hodge Receiving Cancer Treatment

Melissa Edwards, Senior Reporter | 2 Opinions
Published: July 12, 2017 1:22 pm AST
Mrs. Violet Letty Hodge at court today, Wednesday, July 12, 2017
Photo Credit: Melissa Edwards/BVI Platinum News
The prosecution's drug conspiracy case against Mrs. Violet 'Letty' Hodge is weak, and the guilty decision in June 2015 is a clear indication that the Magistrate misdirected herself on many matters. This was put to Appeal Judges today, Wednesday, July 12, by Hodge's lawyer, Julian Knowles, QC out of the United Kingdom (UK).

In June 2015, following a trial before Magistrate Ayanna Baptiste-DaBreo, Hodge, the wife of Earl 'Bob' Hodge, was found guilty on the charge of conspiracy to import cocaine, but not guilty on possession of a prohibited firearm and ammunition, and money laundering.

Later, in September of last year, she was sentenced to six years in prison and fined $100,000 by Magistrate Baptiste-DaBreo.

During the appeal hearing, which is currently underway at the Supreme Court in Road Town, Knowles also disclosed that his client was diagnosed with cancer, something the Magistrate's Court was aware of before handing down an excessive sentence of six years imprisonment.

They are seeking for the conviction to be quashed, and in the event it is not, they are seeking that the sentence be reduced.

Knowles said that they are arguing on four grounds, including that there was no evidence to support the charge of conspiracy; the Magistrate wrongfully allowed the identification evidence of James Springette; and that the Magistrate did not correctly directed herself.

He said that the initial charge of conspiracy against Hodge was correct in that form, where it stated that she conspired with her husband, Bob Hodge, Roberto 'Tico' Harrigan and others; however, when they changed, deleting the names of those persons from the new charge, it became incorrect. He said that the prosecution simply chose the wrong charge.

The lawyer stated that even though the charge changed, the evidence remained the same, which they went to trial with.

Knowles said the new charge stated that she conspired with unknown persons, noting that during her decision, the Magistrate misdirected herself on the ingredients of the charge. "So the conviction cannot stand."

In relation to the dock identification used, where Springette, who was allowed to identify Mrs. Hodge while she was in dock, Knowles said that this should not have been allowed. He argued that while it is not inadmissible, it posed a risk of unfairness to the defendant. To this end, the Magistrate had a duty to direct herself as if she was a jury, and "warn herself of the danger (of such identification evidence)."

Knowles told the Appeal Court that Mrs. Hodge had denied ever speaking to Springette or even knowing him. He said that the prosecution witnesses, that included Springette, were weak, noting that they are in prison (U.S) and are simply cutting deals.

The lawyer said that his client maintains that she is a woman of good character, and prior to her conviction; a successful businesswoman; and has never been in drug dealings.

He stated that there was no evidence led by the prosecution that Mrs. Hodge conspired with unknown persons.

Magistrate Ayanna Baptiste Dabreo
Photo Credit: BVI Platinum News
Knowles reminded the Appeal Judges to understand the illusion of the charge against Mrs. Hodge.

Touching on the sentencing, Knowles said it was excessive and a number of factors were not taken into account, including the amount of years Mrs. Hodge had to wait to have her trial heard, which was not her fault; and her health issues. It was at this point he noted that she has cancer and is taking treatment.

Attorney-at-Law Patrick Thompson also appears for Mrs. Hodge.

Principal Crown Counsel, Tiffany Scatliffe-Espirit and Senior Crown Counsel, Mr. O'Neal Simpson are appearing for the prosecution.

During the trial at the Magistrate's Court, close to thirty witnesses had testified on behalf of crown, including Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents, officers of the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force and well known drug kingpins, who are imprisoned in the United States (U.S).

Some of the crown's key witnesses, Springette, Eduardo Diaz and Roberto Mendez Hurtado, had testified that Mrs. Hodge took part in discussions as a Spanish translator surrounding drug deals they allegedly had with her husband.

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