Appeal Court commutes death sentences of murder convicts

The death sentence imposed on Gary Moses, who was found guilty of the 1993 murder of Leila Barrow, was yesterday commuted to life imprisonment by the Guyana Court of Appeal.

Among the arguments raised on Moses’ behalf was that the sentence was too excessive and was unconstitutional. However, the court disagreed with those claims.

Acting Chancellor Yonette Cummings-Edwards, who presided over the appeal along with Justice of Appeal Rishi Persaud and High Court judge Justice Brassington Reynolds, announced the reduction in the sentence before stating that Moses must serve a minimum of 30 years before his eligibility for parole is considered. This amended sentence takes effect from the date of his conviction, August 29th, 2008.

Barrow, 56, was found bound and gagged. She had been strangled with a bedsheet and a post-mortem examination had revealed that she was also sexually assaulted.

She was found in one of the corners in the upper flat of her five-bedroom, 259 David Street, Kitty residence. She lived alone and was the caretaker of the house, which belonged to a cousin living in the United Kingdom at the time. The prosecution’s case was that the crime was committed by Moses and two other persons who were also charged. Each faced a separate trial. During Moses’ trial in the High Court, one of his co-defendants testified against him.

Derrick Calendar was also convicted and sentenced to death for Barrow’s murder.

On the claims that the sentence was too excessive and was unconstitutional, Justice Cummings-Edwards pointed out that the court dealt with this matter prior to 2010 when Parliament amended the Criminal Law Offences Act to provide an alternative to the mandatory death sentence.

Moses was sentenced to death several years prior to those amendments.

The Chancellor reminded the court that Moses’ attorney had presented arguments inclusive of the severity of the sentence and the length of time on death row.

Justice Cummings-Edwards made it clear that while the court recognised the undue delays the convict was subjected to, it did not believe that the conviction should be squashed and made it clear that the sentence imposed did not breach the defendant’s rights in any way.

With regards to arguments about how the testimony given by Moses’ co-accused was treated, the judge said that it was adequately dealt with by the court.

‘Nine day’ fatal stabbing

Meanwhile, the court also commuted the death sentence imposed on Kenny Arthur Grant, who was convicted for murder after the 2006 fatal stabbing of a music player, to 25 years.

The court, in its ruling, dismissed the appeal against the conviction but allowed the appeal against the sentence. The death sentence was varied to a 25-year sentence from the June 9th, 2011 date of conviction. The time spent in custody prior to conviction would be deducted, the court said.

Grant was convicted for the murder of Cecil Benn in September, 2006 and sentenced to death by hanging by Justice Frank Holder

Prosecutor Latchmie Rahamat had presented the state’s case and contended that on September 16th, 2006, the defendant dealt Benn the wounds which would later cause his death. On the day in question there was a celebration of a baby’s “nine day” at the Lot 76 Westbury, Essequibo Coast home of Rambharrak and Anna Singh. The couple had hired Benn to play music at their function.

The wife of the deceased, Vinelle Benn, and his cousin, Darrel Benn, had accompanied him. Darrel is also the brother-in-law of the defendant.

Grant, who is the brother-in-law of Rambharrak, was also present at the celebration with his wife, Devika Singh. The defendant and his wife, according to evidence presented to the court, had both been dancing with different partners and they started arguing about this.

As a result, Devika ran into the home of her brother [Rambharrak] and Grant attempted to pursue her. However, the man was prevented from entering the house by Rambharrak and the two men started arguing. Cecil Benn intervened at this point and tried to make peace between Rambharrak and Grant.

After Cecil Benn intervened, Grant turned on him and the two started arguing. Grant, witnesses had testified, left the celebration after the argument but announced that he would be back.

Approximately 15 minutes later, Grant was seen returning to the celebration with a cutlass in his hand. Darrel Benn told the court that his brother took away the cutlass from Grant on the road but the defendant still entered Rambharrak’s yard again.

The defendant, witnesses told the court, walked over to where Rambharrak and Cecil Benn were sitting and again enquired about the whereabouts of his wife Devika. A second argument started between Rambharrak and Grant and Cecil Benn intervened again.

Grant and Cecil Benn ended up in another verbal confrontation, which soon turned physical. One witness testified that Cecil Benn pushed the defendant and another told the court that he slapped the man.

Grant, the witnesses said, then pulled out a knife and started stabbing Cecil Benn. Darrel Benn also told the court that he picked up a piece of wood and threw it at Grant in an effort to stop him from further wounding Cecil Benn. When Grant was hit with the wood, he fell to the ground but he subsequently got up and escaped.

Cecil Benn was left on the ground covered in blood. He was taken to hospital where he was admitted and remained there for three days. He died on September 19th, 2006.

In an unsworn statement, Grant had told the court that on September 16th, 2006 he was being “banked” by Rambharrak, Cecil and Darrel Benn. Grant said that he was forced to defend himself, so he took out a knife and started “firing” and it caught Cecil Benn. Darrel, he had contended, had been armed with a piece of wood and was lashing him with it.

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