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Chief Prosecutor: Pleasant Bridgewater was not set up

Title: Chief Prosecutor: Pleasant Bridgewater was not set up
Date: Tuesday, 20 October 2009
Publisher: Nassau Guardian (Bahamas)
Author: Juan McCartney
Main source: thenassauguardian.com

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In his final submissions in the attempted extortion trial of former Senator Pleasant Bridgewater and ambulance driver Tarino Lightbourne yesterday, Chief Prosecutor Bernard Turner said that Bridgewater was not set up as she has claimed, but she knew exactly what she was doing when she and Lightbourne tried to extort $25 million from American actor John Travolta earlier this year.

"Up to the bitter end there was no distancing herself from this plan," said Turner, referencing Bridgewater's statement during a videotaped meeting with Travolta's American attorney Michael McDermott on January 19 that she would take Lightbourne to the police herself if he asked for more money than what the parties were agreeing to after he was paid.

"If that is how serious (she) was, she should have taken him to the police the first time," Turner said. "Does that mean that the first extortion is free? Clearly Ms. Bridgewater knew what was going on. Clearly she knew what this was about. You don't get a free pass."

Bridgewater and Lightbourne are accused of threatening to release a refusal to transport document that Travolta signed the day his 16-year-old son Jett Travolta died in Grand Bahama, to the media along with incriminating stories implicating Travolta in Jett's death on January 2.

The document, if signed, releases the emergency medical staff of the Rand Memorial Hospital from any liability if a patient is not treated or transferred to the hospital.

Turner also said that Bridgewater had the opportunity to abandon the conspiracy to extort money from Travolta many times but did not do so.

Bridgewater continued on with the conspiracy, Turner said, even though Lightbourne reportedly told her that if she did not help him, he would just get a "jungalist" lawyer to do it for him.

"It could have ended right there," Turner said. "Let him go get a 'jungalist' lawyer. Just don't come to me."

Throughout the day yesterday, Turner reviewed the evidence given by almost all of the prosecution's 13 witnesses as well as the extensive transcripts of various conversations among McDermott, Lightbourne and Bridgewater that were videotaped by police in January.

"The transcripts show the active involvement and participation of both defendants," said Turner, who added that when Bridgewater was on the phone as McDermott met with Lightbourne in his hotel room on January 20, she heard McDermott ask Lightbourne if he knew what he was doing was illegal and heard Lightbourne respond, "yes."

He said that the following day Bridgewater still sent McDermott wiring instructions on where to send Lightbourne's money.

Turner also said that the defense's attempts throughout the trial to portray McDermott as the villain were misguided.

"Whether you like him or not; whether you like his style; whether he seemed aggressive and all of that, we say the man spoke the truth. This is not Alice in Wonderland. We do not turn things topsy-turvy where people who try to do the right thing are attacked," he said.

Turner also said that Travolta was a visitor to the country when the pair tried to extort him, and he was just as entitled to protection by Bahamian laws as any Bahamian.

"The law protects us all," he said.

Turner also tried to poke holes in Bridgewater and Lighbourne's defenses, which came mainly in the form of unsworn statements from the bar last week.

In her unsworn statement to the jury, Bridgewater said that she falsely told police that she burned a copy of the refusal to transport form.

Turner pointed out that Bridgewater said that false confession occurred as police searched her house. She said that she could not bear to see her elderly parents mistreated and so she said that to end the search.

Testimony by officer Deborah Thompson during the trial, Turner said, indicated that Bridgewater would have made that statement to police at her office, and then directed police to her home.

He added that it was highly unlikely that a lawyer would confess to destroying a document if there was nothing illegal about what she was doing.

Last week Bridgewater said that she was confident that God would vindicate her.

During his unsworn statement before the jury last week, Lightbourne compared himself to Jonah from the Old Testament of the Bible.

He also said that this entire ordeal was God's doing as he had been called to be an evangelist early on in life and had been running away from God.

In that same statement Lightbourne also said that emergency medical technician Derrex Rolle — who testified against Lightbourne — came to his house a week before the trial started and told him that Minister of Health Dr. Hubert Minnis and other public health officials orchestrated the falsification of a government report in order to make the Rand Memorial Hospital look good.

Turner asked the jury to consider that if Lightbourne had received that information before the trial began, why his attorney did not seek to elicit that information from Rolle during his cross-examination on the stand.

In his unsworn statement, Lightbourne claimed Bahamas Public Service Union (BPSU) President John Pinder had asked him for a portion of a payment he was supposed to get from doing an interview with American TV show Inside Edition in January.

The ambulance driver also suggested that there was a cover-up surrounding Jett's death and that he was asked to participate in the cover-up by Dr. Romeo Fernandez when he and Rolle responded to the emergency assistance call for Jett at Old Bahama that morning.

Turner said that the jury must ask why Lightbourne did not tell police on the scene when he was asked to participate in the cover-up.

He also asked why the defense did not question Travolta about any cover-up involving his son when he was on the witness stand.

In addition, Turner said that the "essence of the threat was delivered in his unsworn statement".

Turner said that Lightbourne was essentially "making it up as he went along" and — realizing his own fate — has decided to "slander, besmirch and belittle everybody he touches."

He also urged the jury not to be swayed by Bridgewater and Lightbourne's constant references to God in the unsworn statements they gave in court last week.

"God can forgive anything, of that there is no doubt," Turner said. "As a jury here, you are not here to carry out God's work of forgiveness. God does not need you (to do that). There is man's law and there is God's law. You are here and you swore an oath to carry out man's law."

Bridgewater's attorney Murrio Ducille began his final submission yesterday, but stopped after a few minutes and said that he would prefer to continue today.