After seven hours of deliberation, a jury last evening found James Anthony Hyles and Mark Royden Williams both not guilty in the murders of the 11 persons killed in the 2008 Lusignan massacre.
Hyles called, ‘Sally,’ and Williams, called ‘Smallie,’ were found not guilty on each of the 11 counts of murder for which they were being tried in the High Court.
The jury foreman returned the unanimous verdicts for the murders just after 7pm, but the freedom of the two men was not guaranteed.
Justice Navindra Singh, who presided over the trial, remanded Williams to prison because of pending matters, while Hyles was placed on $1.1 million bail after Senior State Counsel Judith Gildharie-Mursalin served notices to the defence and court of the intent of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to appeal.
Hyles and Williams were accused of killing 48-year-old Clarence Thomas, his 12-year-old daughter Vanessa Thomas and his son Ron Thomas; 32-year-old Mohandai Gourdat and her two sons, four-year-old Seegobind Harrilall and ten-year-old Seegopaul Harrilall; 22-year-old Shazam Mohamed; 55-yearold Shaleem Baksh; Seecharran Rooplall, 56, his wife Dhanrajie Ramsingh, 52 and their 11-year-old daughter Raywattie Ramsingh, on January 26, 2008 at Track ‘A’ Lusignan.
Gunmen had stormed the homes of the victims in the wee hours of the morning and carried out the brazen attack.
Counsel for Hyles, Nigel Hughes, said in his bail application that his client was arrested since 2008 and at the time he was 19 years old.
He said that his client’s trial was postponed on three occasions by the DPP, who had sent the matter back to the Magistrate’s Court, when it was time for him to stand trial in the High Court.
Hughes noted that Hyles filed constitutional proceedings against the state for the protracted delay.
He also stated that the acting Chief Justice Ian Chang had ruled on the proceedings and had said in his ruling that the actions of the DPP in sending the matter back to the Magistrate’s Court was an abuse of power.
The excuse the DPP had given for the delay was that the judicial system was slow and only two criminal trial judges was working, he added.
According to Hughes, the Chief Justice also said in his ruling that there was no absolute reason for the protracted trial and he ordered that if the trial did not commence before the next assizes, Hyles would be placed on $200,000 bail on each count of murder. He noted that his client has suffered a delay topped by extra years in jail and given that the verdict returned by the jury was not guilty, any suggestion to further delay his liberty would only add to an abuse of power that the Chief Justice found in his decision.
Hughes also said that because the DPP served the notices of appeal soon after the not guilty verdicts, it was obvious they knew that they had no case.
Hughes said too that Hyles, who has to live with the stigma attached to the case, had no prior entanglements with the law and that “it would be a dark day in the history of this jurisprudence… to further remand him for an undetermined period of time while his appeal is being prepared….”
Gildharie-Mursalin, in reply, noted that his claim that they had no case was erroneous. She explained that in every case that they think warrants an appeal, the DPP’s Chambers prepares the notices upfront.
She added that if the notices are not served before the accused persons are freed, then they will lose their opportunity to do so.
She also stated that the Chief Justice’s ruling stated that the DPP acted ultra vires and never stated that there was a breach of Hyles’ constitutional right.
Bail was subsequently set at $1.1 million.
The state’s case rested on key witnesses, including former co-accused Dwane Williams, who it said implicated the accused in the fatal attack.
The charge against Dwane Williams was withdrawn by the DPP, who in turn used him as a witness. In his testimony, he said that he, the two accused and other members of Rondell ‘Fineman’ Rawlins’ gang committed the murders in revenge for the disappearance of Tenisha Morgan, Rawlins’ girlfriend. He had said that he and the accused along with the others went to Lusignan, where he stood on a dam and shortly after he heard gunshots.
He had also given the police a caution and an ordinary statement, which was taken days before the trial had started.
Another murder accused, Durwin Wright, who said he used to hang with Rawlins, also testified for the state, saying that Hyles went to his home on the morning after the shootings and told him he had gone to Lusignan and had participated in the killings.
But Wright also disclosed under cross examination that he had picked out Hyles in an identification parade although he never gave a description of Hyles to the police and that when he was arrested, he was trying to save his “skin.” Both Dwane Williams and Hyles said they were in protective custody.
The state also used Mark Williams’ caution statement to the police as evidence in the case.
He told police that he was only armed with a cutlass during the attack and was a lookout for the others.
Both men had declared their innocence in their respective defences to the court. Attorney Roger Yearwood represented Mark Williams.