Appeal court upholds 25-year sentence for killing of Wakenaam girl, 12

The Guyana Court of Appeal yesterday affirmed the 25-year sentence imposed by a High Court judge upon Dineshwar Sooklall for the brutal 2004 rape and killing of 12-year-old Julie Johanna Sooklall of Wakenaam.

Sooklall, who was committed to stand trial for the November 23, 2004 murder of the young girl, had pleaded not guilty to the capital offence and admitted instead to the lesser count of manslaughter.

Sooklall had been charged along with Azaharudeen Mohamed, called “Rocky,” and Kumar, called “Ratta,” with the young girl’s murder.

Justice Claudette La Bennett, who had accepted Sooklall’s plea, thereafter sentenced him on July 24, 2006 to 25 years in jail.

The prisoner, however, subsequently appealed his sentence, arguing that it was severe.

Julie Johanna Sooklall

However, acting Chancellor Yonette Cummings-Edwards and Justices of Appeal Rishi Persaud and Dawn Gregory, who heard the appeal, ruled that the sentence was neither excessive nor severe.

As a matter of fact, Chancellor Cummings-Edwards said it was more than enough, given the circumstances of the case, and the gruesome manner in which the child met her demise.

It was at this point that the judge turned her direction to the autopsy report, which revealed, among other things, that the young school girl sustained a fractured nose and fingernail impressions to the right side of her neck and left jaw. Both lips were bruised and there were two teeth impressions at the top of her tongue and abrasions across her upper back. Additionally, her vagina was bruised and torn and there was evidence of anal penetration as well.

Her throat was also slit and her windpipe was severed.

The judge noted also that Mohamed, Sooklall and Kumar then each took turn raping the young girl.

The cause of her death was given as haemorrhage and shock, due to the severing of blood vessels, and trachea of neck, compounded by blunt trauma to the head.

Having carefully detailed the injuries Julie sustained, Justice Cummings-Edwards noted that not only was the child brutally killed, but she was raped in the same manner as well and she warned that sexual violence will not be condoned.

In her submissions challenging Sooklall’s appeal, state counsel Teshanna James-Lake had said that while there were mitigating factors to be considered by the court on behalf of the unrepresented appellant, these were outweighed by aggravating circumstances.

Counsel asked the court to consider the time the three men invested in planning to rape and murder the young girl, while noting that it was clearly premeditated.

Justice Cummings-Edwards noted that from the evidence, that a knife had been sharpened two days before the brutal slaying. James-Lake also asked the court to take into account, the seriousness and prevalence of such offences being perpetrated in society.

The mitigating factors noted by the state, however, were Sooklall’s age at the time—

18—and the fact that he accepted responsibility for his actions at the first given opportunity, saving the court considerable time in otherwise having to conduct a trial.

The court did, however, deduct two years from the sentence imposed by Justice La Bennett for the time Sooklall was incarcerated, awaiting trial. The Chancellor explained that the law provides for such deduction, but found that it was not granted.

In January of 2007, Sooklall and Mohamed were among a number of prisoners who escaped from the Mazaruni Prison.

Like Sooklall, Mohamed had also pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter and was sentenced to 25 years behind bars. Kumar, meanwhile, was convicted by a jury for murder after a trial.

Julie Sooklall, of Wakenaam, had left for school on Monday November 22, and never returned. She was eventually found at a farm at Sans Souci, still dressed in her school uniform, not far from her home.

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