An attorney, who allegedly ordered a hit on his secretary that he suspected of snitching about his illegal activities, is challenging his conviction for attempted murder.
Lawyers representing Joseph Melville, who was convicted and sentenced to 19 years in prison in 2017, yesterday presented submissions in their appeal before Appellate Judges Alice Yorke- Soo Hon, Malcolm Holdip and Ronnie Boodoosingh.
Their main ground of contention was the fact that Melville’s trial judge allowed prosecutors to use the preliminary inquiry testimony of one of the State’s main witnesses Ainsley Alleyne.
Alleyne, who was one of three men allegedly hired by Melville to murder his secretary Patricia Cox, was murdered before the trial of the case, and his testimony during the inquiry was admitted into evidence.
Melville’s lawyer Evans Welch challenged the process used by prosecutors to tender his deposition, as he questioned their method of proving that a headless body identified as Alleyne was in fact him through a photograph and fingerprints.
“Without the deposition of Ainsley Alleyne the State would not have a case against the appellant,” Welch said.
He also noted that his client had won an appeal over his initial conviction in 2004 over the same issue.
“They (prosecutors) have been given chances to fill gaps since the first trial and they were still not filled,” Welch said.
Responding to Welch, State prosecutor Travers Sinanan said he trial judge was best placed to decide whether Alleyne’s deposition could be used based on the totality of the evidence before her.
“She was in a position to make a proper determination…There was no miscarriage of justice,” Sinanan said.
Questioned by the appeal panel whether Melville should be given a second retrial if he is successful in the appeal, Sinanan answered in the affirmative as he noted that such was necessary in the interest of justice.
Describing the crime as heinous, Sinanan claimed that Cox was targeted by Melville for simply doing her job.
“It was cruel, callous, and obviously meant to arrive at a certain outcome. Thankfully it did not,” Sinanan said.
Welch disagreed with the position as he noted that it had been almost two decades since the crime was committed.
“He (Melville) has been through the stress and expense of two trials. There comes a point when enough is enough,” Welch said.
The appeal panel eventually reserved their decision on the appeal.
According to the evidence in the case, Alleyne, Hilton Winchester and Jason Holder were hired by Melville to kidnap and kill Cox in 2001.
Alleyne had claimed that on June 28, 2001, he was approached by Melville, through a mutual friend Holder, and was offered $40,000 to kill Cox.
“He said she (Cox) was talking his business with the police and Fraud Squad was getting close,” Alleyne said.
Cox, in her testimony, had admitted that she had threatened to report him after she learned that he (Melville) had cashed in two insurance policies and failed to pay them to his client.
Alleyne testified that he, Holder and Winchester got instructions from Melville to drive to and wait by his office at Pembroke Street in Port-of-Spain where Cox would meet them, for what she believed would be a drive to collect legal documents at a client’s home.
He said after Cox got into the car, Winchester drove to Cumberland Hill, in St James.
Before reaching the location, Alleyne “locked” Cox’s neck while Holder stripped her of her clothes and jewelry.
He admitted to attempting to sexually assault Cox in the car but claimed to have stopped after she said he was on her period.
Alleyne said that upon reaching the location, they took Cox out of the car and placed her to sit on a boulder next to a precipice as they pondered how they would kill her as they had no knives or guns.
“He (Holder) picked up a stone and said it would be the fastest way to do it,” Alleyne said.
He said Cox was begging for her life and he informed her that it was Melville who had hired them to kill her.
Cox then offered to pay them a larger sum to forgo killing her.
“I asked her if she wanted to hide out and pretend to be dead and we would split the money with her when we got paid,” he said.
Before she could respond to her proposal, she jumped off the precipice and ran into a forested area. Holder found her but was was forced to let her go after a man who was hiking in the area saw the incident through his binoculars and raised an alarm.
Cox said she hid for a while and then hiked through the forested area through the night until she reached a housing development the next morning.
Alleyne said hours later, he and Holder went to Melville’s home at Sangre Grande where he told Melville that he strangled Cox with his vest but could not say if she was dead as he and Holder were forced to quickly push her over the precipice as they had noticed a car approaching them.
Melville, Alleyne, Holder and Winchester were charged with the crime. Alleyne was made a State witness while Holder was freed at the preliminary inquiry stage.
Winchester was convicted alongside Melville in 2004 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He did not appeal his conviction like Melville.
When Melville was convicted a second time in 2017, he was slapped with a 19 year sentence for attempting to murder Cox, 14 years for kidnapping her, nine years for conspiring to murder her and four years for assault occasioning actual bodily harm. Melville was only ordered to serve the highest sentence as the sentences were ordered to run concurrently.
The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is also being represented by Assistant DPP Tricia Hudlin-Cooper.