The Guyana Court of Appeal yesterday commenced hearing Mark Samuels’ request to quash his conviction for the 2007 murder of his reputed wife, Chandrowattie Lalla.
Sentenced to death for the crime, Samuels is also asking the court to vary the capital punishment, citing its “severity.”
He has argued, through his attorney Sonia Parag, that the mandatory death penalty, as existed in 2009, contravened article 141 (1) of the Constitution, which provides that “No person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading punishment or other treatment.”
Counsel representing the state, however, has submitted that Samuels’ sentence was imposed before the Criminal Law Offences Act was amended in 2010 to give judges a discretion as to whether or not to impose the death sentence.
The state has emphasised that at the time the capital punishment was imposed upon the appellant, it was the mandatory sentence for a conviction of murder.
However, among his grounds for appeal, Samuels is also contending that the trial judge misdirected the jury by failing to sufficiently direct or warn about oral statements he allegedly made and the manner in which it needed to treat with such evidence by the police.
Parag is arguing that the only evidence against her client is a police constable’s word that he allegedly took an oral confession, which Samuels has vehemently denied ever giving.
According to her, the constable’s evidence was corroborated by nothing else of evidential value.
Citing case law authorities, Parag emphasised that in such circumstances, the trial judge needed to sufficiently direct and warn the jury as to how such statements are to be dealt with, but this was not done.
Resultantly, she submitted that the case was inherently weak and tenuous, and ought not to have been sent to the jury, and since it was, the trial judge should have adequately directed the jury as to the dangers and deficiencies of relying on the alleged oral statement, where no other evidence existed to corroborate it.
Parag has also advanced that the trial judge omitted to explain that while the appellant’s statement in his defence may be considered, he could only be found guilty on the strength of the prosecution’s case.
Parag argues that the judge was under a duty to explain fully to the jury the concept of burden of proof, which rests only on the prosecution.
She is also contending that the judge misdirected the jury by saying, “as long as you find that they have been able to satisfy you so that you feel sure that he did it, then you do not consider any issue of manslaughter, it is murder or nothing. There is no evidence to say that the person was acting in self-defence or in any other excusable manner, it is either that or nothing.”
Parag has submitted that by so directing the jury, the judge usurped the jury’s functions and deprived the appellant of the benefit of the defence of provocation, which arose evidentially on his defence.
It is the state’s contention that Samuels was properly convicted and sentenced and that the judge’s directions to the jury were sufficient and adequate.
Samuels was convicted and read the death sentence by trial judge Justice James Bovell-Drakes on November 9, 2009.
Presiding over his request to appeal are acting Chancellor Yonette Cummings-Edwards, acting Chief Justice Roxane George and Justice of Appeal Rishi Persaud.
Notices will be sent out informing the date for the next hearing and decision.
Samuels was convicted for murdering Lalla, whom he hit sometime between November 23 and 25, 2007.
Reports then had said he was discovered sleeping beside the woman’s decomposing body in their Lot 99 Grove Squatting Area home.