Trinidad judge stays murder indictment of trio

-after nearly a decade on remand

From left are: Ian Sandy, De­on Cal­liste and Chris Durham

(Trinidad Guardian) A de­ci­sion by Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tions (DPP) Roger Gas­pard, SC, to con­tin­ue to pros­e­cute a triple mur­der case af­ter the State’s main wit­ness ad­mit­ted to fab­ri­cat­ing ev­i­dence has led to three men be­ing freed.

Af­ter spend­ing al­most a decade on re­mand, Chris Durham, Ian Sandy and De­on Cal­liste walked out of the Hall of Jus­tice in Port-of-Spain, as free men on Mon­day af­ter High Court Judge Ava­son Quin­lan-Williams up­held their nov­el ju­di­cial re­view law­suit over Gas­pard’s han­dling of their case.

In her 22-page judg­ment, Quin­lan-Williams ruled that Gas­pard’s fail­ure to dis­con­tin­ue the charges against the trio, af­ter learn­ing of the wit­ness’ ad­mis­sion, ear­li­er last month, was un­rea­son­able, im­prop­er and un­fair.

“There is no rem­e­dy avail­able to a judge pre­sid­ing over a crim­i­nal tri­al to bring fair­ness to the tri­al process, on the face of what is known. The DPP is the on­ly pub­lic of­fice hold­er with the pow­er to dis­con­tin­ue this pros­e­cu­tion and should have there­fore de­cid­ed, to so dis­con­tin­ue ex­er­cis­ing the con­sti­tu­tion­al pow­er af­ford­ed by sec­tion 90 of Con­sti­tu­tion,” Quin­lan-Williams, a for­mer pros­e­cu­tor, said.

As she ruled that Gas­pard’s de­ci­sion was not sen­si­ble, Quin­lan-Williams crit­i­cised him for fail­ing to give an ex­pla­na­tion for it in the pro­ceed­ings be­fore her.

How­ev­er, she com­mend­ed State pros­e­cu­tors Kr­ish­na Jaglal and Shabaana Shah, who claimed they in­formed Gas­pard and the trio’s de­fence at­tor­neys of the wit­ness’ ad­mis­sion and raised con­cerns over con­tin­u­ing to pros­e­cute the case.

“It is ev­i­dent that the two pros­e­cut­ing at­tor­neys Mr Jaglal and Miss Shah did what was nec­es­sary to up­hold the most no­ble ten­ets of the le­gal pro­fes­sion and of pros­e­cu­tors in par­tic­u­lar,” she said.

While she not­ed that the court’s will­ing­ness to in­ter­fere with the DPP’s con­sti­tu­tion­al re­mit was rare, she said it was jus­ti­fied based on the ex­cep­tion­al cir­cum­stances of the case.

Asked to com­ment on the rul­ing, Gas­pard said he had not yet read the judg­ment as he had on­ly re­turned to work from va­ca­tion yes­ter­day.

Durham, Sandy and Cal­liste were charged with mur­der­ing Mubarak Calder, 15, Men­tie Mu­rai, 19, and Kevon St Louis dur­ing a shoot­ing at a bot­tle fac­to­ry at Fac­to­ry Road in Diego Mar­tin on April 21, 2009.

As pre-tri­al prepa­ra­tions were be­ing done be­fore Jus­tice De­van Ram­per­sad in the Port-of-Spain High Court, last month, the State’s main wit­ness O’Neil Ben­jamin al­leged­ly told pros­e­cu­tors that he fab­ri­cat­ed his tes­ti­mo­ny, which was the on­ly di­rect ev­i­dence link­ing the trio to the crime.

Ben­jamin re­port­ed­ly claimed that he was will­ing to con­tin­ue to lie at the tri­al as there was a drop in crime with­in his com­mu­ni­ty af­ter the men were charged.

Af­ter be­ing in­formed of what tran­spired, the trio’s at­tor­neys at­tempt­ed to ob­tain the notes of the con­ver­sa­tion Ben­jamin had with the pros­e­cu­tors but Gas­pard nev­er re­spond­ed. The notes were even­tu­al­ly re­leased af­ter Ram­per­sad or­dered the dis­clo­sure.

The trio then filed the claim be­fore Quin­lan-Williams and the tri­al be­fore Ram­per­sad was put on hold pend­ing the out­come of it.

When the tri­al came up for hear­ing, hours af­ter Quin­lan-Williams de­liv­ered her judge­ment, As­sis­tant DPP An­gel­i­ca Teelucks­ingh-Ra­moutar at­tempt­ed to cir­cum­vent the trio’s le­gal vic­to­ry.

Teelucks­ingh-Ra­moutar sug­gest­ed that Ram­per­sad was not bound by Quin­lan-Williams’ rul­ing as they both pre­side in the same High Court ju­ris­dic­tion.

“With­out mean­ing any dis­re­spect to Jus­tice Quin­lan-Williams, this case was be­fore a se­nior crim­i­nal judge (Ram­per­sad). This can be viewed as in­ter­fer­ence with the court’s ju­ris­dic­tion,” Teelucks­ingh-Ra­moutar said as she sug­gest­ed that Ben­jamin’s ev­i­dence could have been chal­lenged at an even­tu­al tri­al by the de­fence.

Her claims were strong­ly op­posed by at­tor­ney Ger­ald Ramdeen, who led the trio’s le­gal team in the civ­il chal­lenge.

“It is a valid and sub­sist­ing or­der,” Ramdeen said.

Af­ter con­sult­ing briefly with at­tor­neys from the Of­fice of the At­tor­ney Gen­er­al, Teelucks­ingh-Ra­moutar agreed to with­draw her ap­pli­ca­tion as she not­ed that her of­fice planned to ap­peal Quin­lan-Williams’ de­ci­sion. The men were then of­fi­cial­ly freed by Ram­per­sad.

The trio was al­so rep­re­sent­ed by Wayne Sturge, Mario Mer­ritt, Ha­sine Sheik, Alex­ia Romero, Danielle Ram­per­sad and Karunaa Bis­ram­s­ingh.

Call for re­view of all mur­der cas­es

In an in­ter­view af­ter they were freed, the trio called for an in­de­pen­dent re­view of all the hun­dreds of mur­der cas­es cur­rent­ly await­ing tri­al.

Cal­liste, who spoke on their be­half, claimed that the cir­cum­stances of their case were not unique and that many oth­ers in prison may earn a sim­i­lar fate if their cas­es are re­viewed.

“Don’t feel that be­cause it have men charged for things that they did it. In the court, they (the pros­e­cu­tion) can­not prove it,” Cal­liste said.

He al­so sent a mes­sage of sol­i­dar­i­ty to oth­er men await­ing tri­al for mur­der.

“All the broth­ers who are in­car­cer­at­ed, all yuh time com­ing soon. Con­tin­ue to pray, fast and pay your at­tor­neys,” he said.

While Cal­liste said he and his co-ac­cused were elat­ed to be freed, he still lament­ed over the slow rate of the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem.

“Imag­ine on­ly af­ter ten years they could prove that the wit­ness lied. I write the DPP and oth­ers, plead­ing for them just to re­view my case and check it out and it was noth­ing,” Cal­liste said.

Speak­ing af­ter Cal­liste, his at­tor­ney Ger­ald Ramdeen stat­ed that the case set a ma­jor le­gal prece­dent.

“For the first time in the Com­mon­wealth, the pros­e­cu­to­r­i­al dis­cre­tion of the DPP has been held to be un­fair and un­rea­son­able,” he said.

Like his clients, Ramdeen al­so sug­gest­ed that the case proved that there was a need to re­view cas­es be­ing pur­sued by the DPP’s Of­fice.

“It calls for a se­ri­ous in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to the man­ner in which these pros­e­cu­tions are tak­ing place. There are oth­er per­sons and oth­er cir­cum­stances very sim­i­lar to this one,” he said.

Asked if his clients planned to take ad­di­tion civ­il pro­ceed­ings to at­tempt to re­ceive com­pen­sa­tion from the State, Ramdeen said it would be con­sid­ered.

“No mat­ter what you do, you can­not give back these men the ten years in which they lost their lib­er­ty be­cause some­body fab­ri­cat­ed ev­i­dence against them,” Ramdeen said.  

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