The country’s first criminal trial for murder to be done via video conferencing has ended with the acquittal of a man from Maloney.
After spending almost 12 years on remand awaiting trial, Quincy “Bookie” Martinez walked out of prison a free man yesterday after being found not guilty of murder by High Court Judge Lisa Ramsumair-Hinds, who presided over his judge-alone trial.
Martinez was accused of murdering Otym Abdul Claverie on March 29, 2008.
According to the evidence presented during his trial, which took three days to complete, Claverie was at his apartment in Maloney Gardens when he heard a commotion outside.
Claverie’s brother Ukumo Samuel, who was allegedly at home at the time and eventually served as the State’s main witness in the case, claimed that he saw and heard his brother talking to a man, who accused him (Claverie) of orchestrating his friend’s murder.
The man then shot Claverie several times. Samuel claimed that he chased after the man and saw him get into an awaiting vehicle, which sped away.
In her 28-page judgment, Ramsumair-Hinds noted that Samuel’s evidence was the only thing linking Martinez to the crime as the police failed to gather any forensic evidence during their investigation.
However, Ramsumair-Hinds stated that his (Samuel) evidence was unreliable as it was “fraught with frailties, conjecture, speculation, and assumption.”
“Condolences aside, I did not believe him to be truthful,” Ramsumair-Hinds said.
Before delivering her judgement, Ramsumair-Hinds thanked Martinez, his lawyers Raphael Morgan and Kyle Fortune, prosecutor Stacy Laloo-Chung for agreeing to have the trial via video conferencing.
Ramsumair-Hinds noted that she had set Martinez’s original trial date in April, since February, and well before the COVID-19 pandemic and associated nationwide restrictions.
She said she felt that after waiting over a decade on remand, Martinez should not be denied access to justice, since it could have been facilitated under the judiciary’s ongoing policies to mitigate against the potential spread of the virus.
However, Ramsumair-Hinds noted that the process was not incident-free.
She pointed out that through case management, the contentious witnesses were allowed to testify and be cross-examined remotely but Samuel was still required to go to the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain to attempt to identify his brother’s killer in open court.
Describing that hearing as a charade, Ramsumair-Hinds questioned his eventual identification as she noted that the only persons that were physically present in the courtroom were herself, her staff, prosecutors, Martinez’s legal team and a handful of police officers, which essentially narrowed the options Samuel had to choose from.
Ramsumair-Hinds said that the process, frequently used in criminal trials with eyewitnesses to crimes, also exposed all the parties involved to unnecessary risk as they were all required to remove their masks for the identification procedure.
“There was no small measure of anxiety in this courtroom during the short time without masks,” Ramsumair-Hinds said.
She also noted that she was initially scheduled to deliver her ruling in a physical court, but admitted that she was forced to reconsider as the Prison Service had to quarantine Martinez and some of his fellow inmates at the Eastern Correctional and Rehabilitation Centre in Santa Rosa after he attended the physical hearing, last week.
Questioned by Ramsumair-Hinds, both prosecutors and defence attorneys agreed that such technology should be used more frequently even after the restrictions and policies related to COVID-19 are no longer required.
“It is a huge step forward for the Judiciary and for access to criminal justice on the whole in T&T,” Morgan said.
Morgan did note he was a bit apprehensive and worried over his ability to constantly communicate privately with his client throughout the trial but said that he was adequately facilitated by Judiciary and prison officials.
“I must say I did not expect it to run so smoothly,” Fortune, who served as Morgan’s instructing attorney, said.
In her address, Laloo-Chung said she was pleased with the new trial method despite experiencing several hiccups along the way.
Laloo-Chung was especially pleased with the speed of the trial and Ramsumair-Hinds’ subsequent judgement as she noted she was already preparing for another trial before her (Ramsumair-Hinds), scheduled for next week.
As yesterday’s hearing was punctuated by several interruptions due to connectivity issues at the various locations where the parties were participating, Ramsumair-Hinds suggested that members of the legal fraternity including judges would have to seriously consider upgrading their Internet bandwidth with the now frequent use of video conferencing.