By Sasha Harrinanan
September 22, 2012 – newsday.co.tt
THE firing of Justice Minister Herbert Volney, two days ago by Prime Minister Kamla Persad- Bissessar, was karma for his controversial 1998 dismissal of a manslaughter trial against Brad Boyce, who was before the High Court for the 1996 killing of Jason Johnson.
“Sometimes people ask, ‘Why this happening to me?’ But he (Volney) should remember what he did in my son’s case…he called the jury in and made a no-submission case. That wasn’t right,” said Nancy Johnson, mother of Jason, during an emotional interview at her Diego Martin home yesterday.
“What goes around, comes around, you know? It might take a little while but it surely will come back to you. He has gone down in post. Let him take that now, because he must remember what he did,” Johnson said as tears welled in her eyes. Sitting on a couch in the living room of her apartment off the Diego Martin Main Road, with her granddaughter Aleah Johnson, four, playing quietly nearby, Johnson fought back tears as she spoke about Volney’s dismissal over his request that Cabinet approve an early proclamation approval of Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act on August 9.
Tears glistened in her eyes as she lamented what she described as her inability to get justice for the death of her son during an altercation outside the Edge Nightclub, Long Circular Mall in St James, 16 years ago.
“He was the Justice Minister but Volney did not give me justice for my son. He has to remember what he did to get that little boy (Brad Boyce) off the manslaughter charge. He should never forget. He should never forget that, because look what’s happened to him now. Look at his post…he’s gone,” Johnson declared.
On August 31, 1996, 19-year-old Jason, his younger brother Stephen Van Luke and a friend described only as ‘Cookie’, went to the nightclub. According to reports, at about 3.45 am the next day, the three exited the club and were heading toward their vehicle when they got into an altercation with another group. After that fight broke up, Jason and company reportedly heard the club’s promotions manager, Boyce, 19, cursing. During a fresh argument, Boyce is alleged to have punched Jason on the left side of his head. The teen collapsed, bleeding from his eyes, nose and mouth and suffering from a bout of fits. Jason was taken to Port-of-Spain General Hospital and later transferred to San Fernando General Hospital. Eight days later, he developed pneumonia and was put on a ventilator where he remained in a coma until he died on September 16, 1996.
The postmortem was conducted by Dr Hughvon Des Vignes who ruled the cause of death was complications of blunt cranio cerebral trauma. However the pathologist’s qualifications became the source of controversy during the 1998 manslaughter trial, which was presided over by then Justice Volney.
Volney, during the trial ruled that des Vignes was not qualified to give cause of death and that his evidence was inadmissible and should be withdrawn from the jury. He later directed the jury to acquit Boyce of the manslaughter charge. Shortly after the trial, Boyce left Trinidad for Canada where he lives at present.
On January 11, 2006 the Privy Council ruled that the Court of Appeal was wrong to dismiss the State’s appeal of Volney’s instruction to the jury in the 1998 manslaughter trial that they should acquit Boyce.
The Director of Public Prosecutions had appealed Volney’s decision under the Administration of Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, which came into effect on October 29, 1996. The Court of Appeal dismissed the State’s appeal on November 30, 2001, saying the new act was not consistent with the Constitution and that it had not been passed with the requisite majority in Parliament and therefore was not a law in force. In its ruling on the State’s appeal, the Privy Council found that if the Court of Appeal had considered the new section to be constitutional, it would have held that Volney’s exclusion of des Vignes’ evidence was erroneous in point of law.
Fourteen years later, the knowledge that the person whom she holds responsible for her son’s death, “walked free”, still upsets Johnson. However, with the passage of time, she has forgiven Volney for his role in Boyce’s acquittal.
“When I say I forgive him, I mean if God the Father can forgive, who is me? There’s a Lord above and He will deal with my situation one day. So he’s (Volney) forgiven but he will still have to go through his pain just as I have gone through mine. He called the jury in and made a no-submission case. That wasn’t right. God doesn’t sleep. God will be there. He will enact vengeance for me,” she vowed.
Volney’s dismissal as Justice Minister coincided with a very emotional time for the Johnson family in that Nancy’s husband Stephen, has been warded at Port-of-Spain General Hospital after he collapsed at home on August 1 (Emancipation Day).
“Maybe it was the stress of knowing the anniversary of Jason’s death was on September 16 and his (Jason) birthday is coming up on October 7. But we do have something to celebrate. My granddaughter will be five on Monday, so we’re having a party for her,” Johnson said with a smile.
It was one of the rare times when Johnson smiled during the interview with Newsday. During the interview, Johnson showed off what can be best described as a shrine complete with photos of her son surrounded by flowers and post cards. She proudly proclaimed that every year, on her son’s birthday, she lights a candle to honour his memory.
“All these years since he left me, I picture him in my mind as being away studying because he was a college student at the time of his death. So I pretend that he’s just gone away to university and one day we will meet each other again,” Johnson said almost in a whisper.