Jennifer Brown trial resumes with focus on male visitors to apartments

Doha court

Shabina S. Khatri

In an unusual move, the judge overseeing the trial of a Kenyan security guard accused of killing American teacher Jennifer Brown asked the defendant to cross-examine witnesses during this morning’s hearing.

The main issue discussed during the session was the school’s stance on male visitors to the employee accommodation in Al Sadd where the 40-year-old woman and several other teachers of the English Modern School’s Al Wakrah’s campus lived.

The second day of witness testimony was nearly postponed on Tuesday after the defendant’s publicly appointed lawyer failed to appear. A replacement quickly arrived, but told the court he had not had time to review the case.

Jennifer Brown

File photo

Meanwhile, several witnesses who were scheduled to testify this morning were also absent, including the psychiatrist who examined the defendant.

The medical professional has failed to appear before the court three times, adding delays to a trial that began in June 2013 – seven months after Brown was killed in November 2012.

When reached by phone in Pennsylvania, Brown’s father, Robert Brown, said he was angry to hear that several witnesses did not show up to court and became emotional as he spoke of his daughter:

I don’t know what to say. My head is still spinning. Everything is going so slow, I can’t understand – is this the norm? Can someone answer me that much?

The pace of this trial sharply contrasts to that of Lauren Patterson’s, a British teacher whose murderer was sentenced to death last week – five months after he and his accomplice were arrested. Patterson’s family has expressed concerns about whether that sentence will actually be carried, as Qatar has not executed anyone in more than a decade.

The man accused of killing Brown, who Doha News is not identifying pending the verdict, also faces the death penalty if convicted. The security guard was arrested and reportedly confessed to the crime a few days after Brown’s body was found in her apartment, half-naked and wrapped in a comforter on her bed, according to previous witness testimony.

Apartment access

On Tuesday, the finance officer at where Brown had worked for two months told the court that only residents and a school contractor overseeing the accomodations have keys to the teachers’ apartment building in Al Sadd.

A teacher who worked with Brown and lived on the same floor testified that they were allowed visitors, but that all guests had to sign in with security.

Under questioning, the security guard said the school had not informed him of any policies governing access to non-residents, and that he had to purchase a sign-in book himself.

“(They) didn’t tell me anything,” he told the court.

Earlier in the hearing, the judge scolded school officials for allowing security guards to perform repairs inside the residential units, suggesting such tasks should be undertaken by separate individuals.

The school’s headmaster was not given an opportunity to respond in court. He told Doha News after the hearing that he planned to write a letter to the court’s clerk “clarifying” the issue, but declined further comment.

However, he was overheard speaking to a lawyer that the school has rules requiring visitors to sign in and that male guests are prohibited.

Male visitors

In response to questions from the judge, the teacher who worked with Brown testified that she did not know if any guests had ever been denied entry to the building and was not aware of whether men had ever paid the guard to visit the building’s residents.

The teacher also denied that she had ever heard Brown raise concerns about men being allowed into the apartment.

Moments later, the defendant was given an opportunity to question the witnesses and reminded the finance director that he had previously complained about men visiting the female teachers.

He said he was angry about it because, in his view, it violated Qatari customs and he didn’t want to break the law.

The finance director agreed that the security guard had voiced these concerns and, under questioning from the judge, said he told the guard to raise the issue with other members of the school’s management.

The connection between men visiting female teachers and Brown’s murder was not articulated, though the court may have been suggesting the school was partly responsible for what happened.

The accused started to discuss the night Brown was killed, saying he saw the teacher around 6pm, and that she had requested a taxi, but the judge cut him off and said he had read his account in a statement and adjourned the hearing shortly thereafter.

The trial is scheduled to resume April 21.

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