Steven Causwell, the St Andrew businessman who was in 2016 sentenced to life in prison for the 2008 murder of his girlfriend, Nadia Mitchell, has lost his bid to appeal his sentence and conviction.
In the much-publicised case, Causwell, who was the sole person indicted for the murder, was ordered to serve a minimum 20 years’ imprisonment at hard labour before becoming eligible for parole.
Following the striking down of an application for leave to appeal the sentence and the conviction by a single judge of the Appeal Court in February 2019, Causwell renewed the application to be heard before a full court instead. However, following hearings on the 16th, 17th and 18th of October 2019, as well as November 18 this year, a panel led by Appeal Court President Justice Dennis Morrison, Justice Paulette Williams and Justice Nicole Simmons upheld the sentence imposed by Justice Carol Lawrence-Beswick in the Home Circuit Court in 2016.
According to the ruling handed down on Wednesday, “there is no basis on which this conviction should be disturbed”.
In the evidence led before the court, it emerged that Causwell and Mitchell had been involved in a stormy relationship for about eight years before Mitchell began another relationship in early 2008. By July 16 of that year, however, Mitchell was dead.
According to statements from police investigators, Causwell — who the court heard was the last to see her alive — told them that he visited Mitchell’s Oaklands apartment on the night of the 15th after she asked him to come over, but got into a fight with her, during which he punch her in the eye.
He further said Mitchell stormed from the apartment and that he waited a few minutes before calling her and texting her. He said after he got no response, he went in search of Mitchell, which took him downstairs where he found her lying motionless. He tried to speak to her and shook her but she didn’t respond. Eventually, he said, he lifted her up and took her to hospital where she was pronounced dead.
After expressing sorrow at her death he said he was not responsible and described it as “really, really, an unfortunate and tragic situation”.
The government pathologist who performed the post -mortem said the cause of death was subdural haemorrhage and cerebral contusion, which is bruising of the brain due to blunt force injury to the head, as a result of impact with a blunt object. The doctor said the degree of force which would have been necessary to cause those injuries to the head was severe, such as hitting or being banged against a wall or on the floor. He further said the ante-mortem injuries would be consistent with Mitchell being involved in a fight, and the post-mortem injuries were consistent with dragging on the floor or similar surface that was a little rough. He also said the injuries were not consistent with a fall from a height.
Mitchell had 27 injuries in total; 19 ante-mortem to include the fatal blow that caused her death, and eight post-mortem, the court was told.
However, the forensic pathologist who testified on behalf of the defence said that, among other things, the injuries to the feet were typical of a fall from a height and that the injuries seen to the head were also entirely in keeping with a fall from a height. He told the court that the nature of the injuries to the head were more often seen in the context of a fall than from a direct blow with a weapon to the head. This was so, he said, because “typically there is more force in a fall than there is if someone is striking you”.
The pathologist, who lived outside the island and was contacted in 2011 in relation to the matter, had relied on the autopsy report and photographs of the deceased at the hospital, as well as the scene of the incident, to arrive at his conclusions.
On Wednesday, the Appeal Court, in turning down Causwell’s renewed application, which challenged the 2016 decision on 14 grounds, as against the five in the original application for appeal, said it found the grounds of appeal largely without merit.
The judges disagreed with the arguments by Causwell’s lawyers that the trial judge had, among other things, erred in her directions to the jury and that her treatment of the evidence relied on by the prosecution to prove its case was flawed. They however said “ultimately, although two of the complaints made in relation to the directions of the learned trial judge have some merit, they do not render the verdict of the jury unsustainable”.
In relation to submissions regarding breaches of Causwell’s constitutional right to a fair trial on the basis that the trial took place eight years after the date of the offence, and the poor and insufficient investigation carried out by the police, the judges said: “The learned trial judge also identified the issues that arose and fairly rehearsed the evidence that was presented in a manner that was appropriate for a case as this, which involved reliance on circumstantial evidence”.
“There was nothing in her summation that amounted to a misdirection resulting in a miscarriage of justice. The trial of the applicant was, on the whole, fair and the majority of the jury, properly directed, returned a verdict which cannot be said to be unreasonable. Although the trial was not heard and completed within a reasonable time, thus constituting a breach of section 16(1) of the constitution, this does not provide a basis to quash the conviction in this case. Ultimately, there is no basis on which this conviction ought to be disturbed,” the judges said.
Furthermore, they said although it was conceded by the director of public prosecutions at the trial that there was indeed poor and inefficient investigation, the examples highlighted were not of such a nature that it can be said that it resulted in a breach of the constitutional right of the applicant to a fair trial, which could only be addressed by interfering with his conviction.
“In any event, the learned trial judge demonstrably applied the correct principles in arriving at the sentence of imprisonment for life, with a stipulation that the applicant should serve a minimum of 20 years before becoming eligible for parole. This sentence is well within the usual range of sentences normally imposed for an offence such as this. The sentence is accordingly affirmed and reckoned to have commenced on 10 October 2016,” they concluded.