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HomeNewsArchivesWard To Spend Life Behind Bars for Cockayne Murder

Ward To Spend Life Behind Bars for Cockayne Murder

Oct. 11, 2008 — It took about nine hours Friday for jurors to find Jahlil Ward guilty of first degree murder and third degree assault for the June 2007 stabbing death of 21-year-old James "Jamie" Cockayne.
The first-degree murder charge carries a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole.
The jury also convicted Anselmo Boston and Kamal Thomas on two counts each of third degree assault and one count each of unlawful use of a dangerous weapon during the commission of third degree assault. According to prosecutors, the third degree assault charge carries a maximum sentence of five years, while the weapons charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 2-1/2 years and a maximum sentence of 15 years.
The three will be sentenced at 3 p.m. on Nov. 14.
After the five-day trial, in the courtroom of V.I. Superior Court Judge Brenda J. Hollar, wrapped Friday evening, Thomas and Boston's attorneys said they would be filing motions for acquittal on the assault and weapons convictions. The evidence in the case shows that the two were "only" involved in a bar fight with Cockayne on the night of his death, which was "at most" a case of "simple assault," they said. From the beginning of the trial, both attorneys have pointed the finger at Ward, saying that he alone stabbed and killed Cockayne after trying to rob him.
But photos shown by the prosecution of the bloody crime scene and Cockayne's dead body "influenced" the jury with respect to the assault charges, Thomas' attorney Michael Joseph said.
"We are extremely grateful to see that the jury removed the ultimate penalty, which is life in prison for first degree murder," he added. "So I'm almost happy with the verdict — I say almost because what's left was at most a case of simple assault."
Thomas and Boston were arrested last year after witnesses said the two were involved in an argument with Cockayne the night of his murder on St. John. Boston has admitted to having a verbal confrontation with "a white guy" who had "kicked his jeep" in the late evening hours of June 18, 2007, according to a statement obtained by police after the incident. Boston added that he hit Cockayne in the shoulder and neck with a pool stick, but did not follow when Cockayne left the Front Yard Bar in Cruz Bay a little while later.
In a statement taken shortly after his arrest, Thomas told investigators he was at the Front Yard Bar from 10 to 11:30 p.m. on the evening in question, and was involved in an argument with Cockayne. The two were later thrown out by the bartender, and an alibi witness testifying during the trial placed himself, Thomas, another male and three females at Hawksnest Beach at the time of the murder. The witness, Alexander Cameron, said that the group went to the beach to take a swim and look at the "phosphorescence" in the water.
Using the medical examiner's report as a guide, the attorneys have said Cockayne's cause of death was "hemorrhagic shock due to multiple stab wounds" and not an alleged beating with a pool stick and two-by-four, which witnesses have testified that Thomas was carrying in the back of his shirt when he and Boston followed Cockayne up the street from the Front Yard Bar after being asked to leave by the bartender. (See "Cockayne Case Goes to Jury.")
But it was Boston who put the events leading up to Cockayne's death in motion that night, prosecutors argued during the trial. Cockayne kicked Boston's girlfriend's jeep around 6 p.m. on the night of his death, and got into a fight with Boston and Thomas while inside the Front Yard Bar a few hours later. The first charge of third degree assault applies to the fight inside the bar, and the fact that Boston tried to get even by picking a fight with Cockayne and striking him over the head with a pool stick, government attorney Renee Gumbs-Carty argued during the trial.
Thomas joined in, and the two followed Cockayne up the street, sticks in hand, and beat him up, she said. The fight outside the bar, the basis for the second assault charge, weakened Cockayne for the final blow: the stabbing, in which Ward cornered Cockayne in a wooden partition attached to the Fashion Palace store and stabbed him eight times to the back and front of the body, according to Gumbs-Carty.
Thomas, Ward and Boston were charged with aiding and abetting each other in Cockayne's assault and murder.
Prosecutors said Friday that they were encouraged by the verdict, and praised the "hard work" of the six men and six women sitting in the jury room throughout the day.
"I think the jury did a great job," said prosecuting attorney Brenda Scales, who was the government's co-counsel in the case. "They sifted through all the evidence and decided who was credible and who was not. I admire that jury. They had a lot of difficult facts to muddle through — they had a hard sort of thing to put together."
Scales' sentiments were later echoed by William Cockayne, the victim's father, who said the verdict came down "pretty much" as he expected.
"My personal opinion is that they all knew what was going on, but the jury wasn't presented that evidence," he said. "But based on the evidence displayed to the jury, the verdict was pretty much what I expected. The jury was careful, deliberate and came to a reasonable conclusion. My son's gone, and he's never coming back, but I think the decision was fair, given the evidence."
One notable aside to the trial was a charge of witness tampering brought by Joseph after the verdict came down. Cameron's jeep was smashed by one of Cockayne's family members while parked in the Fort Christian Parking Lot, he told Hollar.
Scales said the incident would be investigated.
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