Six men from Diego Martin, whose protracted preliminary inquiry for murdering a Cepep worker had to be restarted due to the short-lived judicial appointment of former chief magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar, have been freed.
Akili Charles, Chicki Portello, Anton Cambridge, Kareem Gomez, Levi Joseph and Israel “Arnold” Lara were discharged by Ayers-Caesar's successor Chief Magistrate Maria Busby-Earle-Caddle at the end of their second preliminary inquiry in the Port-of-Spain Magistrates' Court, this morning.
The legal victory was bittersweet for Cambridge as he had to watch as his friends walked out of the courthouse and into the arms of their elated relatives, while he was remanded back into custody for a separate murder.
During the hearing, Busby-Earle-Caddle upheld a no case submission from the group's attorneys, who claimed that there was insufficient evidence linking them to murdering Russell Antoine on May 13, 2010.
Antoine, 27, was walking along Upper Cemetery Street, Covigne Road, Diego Martin, when he was shot several times. Antoine's friends Marcus and Joseph Spring were wounded in the incident and the group was charged with shooting them with intent to cause them grievous bodily harm. The group was also freed of the additional charges.
The group's case was one of 53 that were affected when Ayers-Caesar decided to take up a position as a High Court Judge in April 2017.
Two weeks later, Ayers-Caesar tendered her resignation amid furore over the cases she left unfinished.
Most of the affected persons agreed to have their cases restarted before Busby-Earle-Caddle, who cleared her schedule to expedite them.
However, the group elected to put their case on hold pending the determination of a High Court interpretation lawsuit, which sought to determine the process to be followed when a judicial official leaves office suddenly, as in Ayers-Caesar's case.
In January, Justice Carol Gobin ruled that all of Ayers-Caesar's part-heard cases would have to be restarted. The group's second preliminary inquiry eventually commenced before Busby-Earle-Caddle in March.
Speaking with Guardian Media after the hearing, some of the men's relatives, who attended almost every hearing of their case over the past decade, expressed relief over the outcome.
"This should not take 10 years but nothing happens before its time," one relative said.
The group was represented by Wayne Sturge, Criston J Williams and Danielle Rampersad.
- by Derek Achong