(Trinidad Guardian) – A blunder by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has led to the freeing of a man accused of being a member of the gang allegedly responsible for the assassination of former Independent senator Dana Seetahal, SC.
David Ector walked into the arms of waiting family members outside the Port-of-Spain Magistrates’ Court, after Senior Magistrate Indrani Cedeno discharged the 14 people of the charges they faced under the Anti-Gang Act in relation to Seetahal’s murder in July last year.
Magistrate Cedeno was left with no choice but to do so in an oral ruling in the Port-of-Spain Eighth Magistrates’ Court, after she dismissed an application from the DPP’s Office to amend the gang charges against the 13 accused in Seetahal’s murder.
In its application, the DPP’s Office had admitted to laying the charges indictably (heard and determined by a High Court Judge and jury), as opposed to summarily (heard and determined by a magistrate) as prescribed by the legislation.
However, Magistrate Cedeno said the amendment could not be permitted as she felt the accused would be prejudiced by it, as the penalty for the offence is greater on summary conviction as opposed to conviction before a judge and jury. She also criticised the DPP’s Office for its delay in seeking the amendment, as she said it should have been noticed at a preliminary stage.
The DDP’s Office also cannot now re-lay the gang charges against the men as the six-month window for doing so has already expired. While her decision affected all the accused before the court, Ector, who was charged only with the gang offence and not the murder, earned his immediate release.
Deon Peters, who like Ector was not indicted for the murder, was not as lucky though, as after being discharged he was led out of court and detained by police on an outstanding warrant for an unrelated criminal offence.
Unlike Ector and Peters, Stacy Griffith, the third person who was charged with being a gang member and not with the murder, will remain with her husband, Rajaee Ali, and ten others who are still before the court for Seetahal’s murder, as she has a separate charge of benefiting from the gang’s activity, which was laid correctly by the DPP’s Office.
Ali, his brothers Ishmael and Hamid Ali, Devaughn Cummings, Ricardo Stewart, Earl Richards, Stephan Cummings, Kevin Parkinson, Leston Gonzales, Roget Boucher, and Gareth Wiseman remain on trial for Seetahal’s murder.
In her judgment, Magistrate Cedeno also called on Parliament to review the gang legislation, as she said she felt there was a mix-up in varying sentences for the two trial processes, as summary trials usually carry a lesser penalty.
Seetahal guides from grave
Ironically, Magistrate Cedeno admitted that her decision was strongly influenced by Dana Seetahal’s professional book Caribbean Criminal Practice and Procedure.
“Seetahal’s book provided immense assistance and guidance on the issues raised in the application,” Magistrate Cedeno said as she quoted the text several times during her ruling.
The accused men, who were surrounded by several police in the prisoner enclosure, broke into celebration immediately upon hearing Cedeno’s decision. They were allowed to embrace each other briefly and repeatedly chanted “Allahu Akbar,” before Magistrate Cedeno intervened and warned that she would not tolerate any further disturbances.
The accused men’s relatives were also seen performing muted celebrations in the court, while Seetahal’s niece, Danielle Francois, and her brother Omar, who were also present in court, appeared to be visibly disappointed by the decision.