February 10, 2012
After Patois forces judge to declare mistrial ... New trial to start for J'can on attempted-robbery rap
A new trial is expected to begin sometime this week after a judge granted a request for a mistrial in a case of an illegal immigrant from Jamaica accused of attempting to rob another man at knife-point nearly two years ago in Martinsburg, West Virginia a report in The Journaloutlines.
According to the report, Derrick A. Cotterel, formerly of North Maple Avenue, Martinsburg, was on trial for attempted first-degree robbery for allegedly holding a knife to another man's throat on May 1, 2010, during a dispute over payment for yard work.
West Virginia 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Gray Silver III declared the mistrial after concerns were raised over the incomplete official record of the alleged victim's testimony in January, partly due to interpretation difficulties.
The alleged victim, Donald Miller, of Martinsburg, also is a member of the local Jamaican community.
He testified that he offered to pay Cotterel US$13 ($1,129.31) after the man helped him mow his lawn, but he says Cotterel refused to accept the agreed payment and demanded US$20 ($1,737.40) instead.
Cotterel's case has reportedly garnered attention from the media and the Pennsylvania branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, namely due to drawn out federal immigration proceedings that ultimately resulted from his arrest. Cotterel is seeking political asylum in the US
illiterate, speaks Patois
Interestingly, it has been reported that he is illiterate and speaks Patois which is uncommon to the authorities. Furthermore, he has a speech disability and severe stutter that makes his speech nearly unintelligible.
The ACLU has appealed a deportation ruling on his behalf, arguing that the government failed to satisfy constitutional due process and violated both the Americans with disabilities and the rehabilitation acts.
The trial in Martinsburg was not directly related to the ongoing immigration proceedings. The issue that resulted the January mistrial declaration arose during the alleged victim's testimony.
Miller also speaks with a sometimes difficult to understand accent. A translator who is fluent in Jamaican Patois acted as an interpreter for Miller to aid jurors.
The court's reporter was instructed to transcribe the interpreter's translation of the testimony for the official court record. During Miller's testimony, however, some unintended missteps arose that saw instances where his testimony was only partially interpreted for the record.
"It's just not complete from my understanding, and from what the court reporter said it's 'woefully inadequate,'" Silver said of the record of the testimony. "I'm not trying to blame anyone. It just happened that way unfortunately."
After the mistrial was declared, some obvious tension arose between the two attorneys in the case after Berkeley County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Carmela Cesare informed the court she intended to a file a new motion seeking to limit what the defence, represented by Thomas Stanley, could introduce as evidence.
The court previously ruled at a pre-trial hearing that the defence would be prohibited from mentioning anything about Cotterel's detention by immigration authorities.
Cesare said the state's concern is if the defense attempts to bring in allegations that Miller was aware of Cotterel's immigration status by virtue of his former position as a groundskeeper for the US Department of Homeland Security. The theory, as the ACLU has suggested and that Stanley alluded to at a previous hearing, is that Miller allegedly used intimidation to get Cotterel and others to do work for him for free or little payment.
"I'm not pulling this out of thin air. This was clearly discussed at pretrial," Cesare said.