Two men, who had been charged with murdering two women in 2006 and 2007, were on Monday allowed to plead guilty to manslaughter and will be sentenced early next month following the presentation of probation reports to the two judges before whom they appeared.
This being 2013, these men would have been on remand for some six and seven years respectively, give or take a few months, awaiting trial. There is a lot that could have happened in that time. Witnesses, if there were any to begin with, could have died or migrated; the detective(s) who conducted the initial investigations could also have migrated or died; evidence could have disappeared. On the other hand, all of the factors could have been in place and an astute sleuth could have used the time to ensure the case of murder against the accused was iron clad so that it could be successfully prosecuted, the court backlog notwithstanding.
The accepting of guilty pleas to the lesser count of manslaughter is a feature of the justice system that relatives of murder victims as well as the average lay person find difficult to comprehend. Yet this could be said to be routinely done here; each sitting of the assizes produces at least one such case. The difference between a conviction for guilty or murder and the acceptance of a plea of guilty of manslaughter is prison time ranging from 3 to sometimes 25 years as opposed to a death sentence.
For example, in October last year, Mahadeo Seewah, who was about to stand trial for the murder of security guard Banand Persaud had his guilty plea to the lesser count of manslaughter accepted. Seewah was in effect admitting that between April 22 and 23, 2007, he chopped Persaud to death at his workplace – Mon Repos Freshwater Fish Farm – which was also robbed of a cash canister and a generator at the time of the killing.
Seewah was sentenced to 10 years in prison in addition to the five years he spent awaiting trial.
In October 2011, Clement James, who had killed Basil De Freitas on September 26, 2006 and was charged with murder, had his plea of guilty to manslaughter accepted. James had stabbed De Freitas in the neck during an argument at Charity Market and was subsequently jailed for three years.
In April 2012, Wilson Chan, who was accused of murdering his reputed wife Loretta Ramoutar, also pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter.
Chan had stabbed Ramoutar in her abdomen and about her body during an argument at her home on September 10, 2007, at First Alley, Wismar. He was jailed for eight years after mitigating factors were considered.
In February 2011, Gladstone Williamson, who slashed the throat of his reputed wife Gertrude Benn at Ithaca, West Bank Berbice, in May 2009, was jailed for 14 years after a plea of guilty to the lesser count of manslaughter was accepted by the prosecution. He had been seen committing the gruesome act by the woman’s daughter.
In February 2008, Roopnarine Singh, who shot his wife Rajdai Sookraj in the face in March 2005 was allowed to plead guilty to manslaughter. Likewise, in October 2011, Chetram Nourang, who slashed the throat of his reputed wife Jasoda Budhoo in May 2007, had a similar plea accepted from him.
These scenarios also make a lie of police statistics. In the years in which these crimes would have been committed, the police would have included them under ‘murder’, while there would have been other cases under the heading ‘manslaughter’. So what happens say 5 years down the road when a plea of guilty to manslaughter is entered against that criminal’s name, do the police go back and adjust their records?
While it is unfortunate that a person would have to spend years just awaiting trial, this goes with the territory. Whoever intentionally attacks another person with a knife, cutlass, gun or other weapon has to consider that the person could die. If, therefore, someone is prepared to carry out such an attack—and not while defending him/herself—s/he should also be prepared to deal with the consequences.
It is perplexing that someone who has been charged with murder, placed before a magistrate who listens to the evidence and finds that a prima facie case has been made out against him is subsequently allowed to plead guilty to manslaughter. It also sends the signal that somewhere along the way someone dropped the ball. Meanwhile, the families of the victims are left with the feeling that they have not obtained justice.