The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has been given the green light to reinstate gang charges against 13 persons connected to the murder of former Independent Senator Dana Seetahal, SC.
Delivering judgment at the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain, Appellate Judges Alice Yorke-Soo Hon and Mark Mohammed ruled that Magistrate Indrani Cedeno made an error when she refused a request from Assistant DPP George Busby to correct a clerical error which caused the dismissal of the charges in 2016.
The judges said: “In our view, this was a case in which a substantial error was committed, in that, the respondents may have been deceived or misled with respect of the mode of trial. Substantial errors are capable of correction and the court may grant an adjournment to ensure that no prejudice accrues to the defendant.”
Seetahal was shot dead behind the wheel of her SUV while driving along Hamilton Holder Street in Woodbrook on May 4, 2014.
On July 25, 2015, Rajee Ali, his brothers Ishmael and Hamid Ali; Devaughn Cummings, Ricardo Stewart, Earl Richards, Stephan Cummings, Kevin Parkinson, Leston Gonzales; Roget Boucher and Gareth Wiseman were charged with the crime.
Rajaee’s wife, Stacy Griffith, Deon Peters and David Ector were charged under the Anti-Gang Act for being members of a gang.
The gang charges were initially dismissed based on the fact that they were laid indictably (heard and determined by a High Court Judge and jury), as opposed to summarily (heard and determined by a magistrate), as required for first-time offenders under the legislation.
The issue resulted in Peters and Ector being freed. Griffith remained before the court on an additional gang charge which was properly laid.
As Ector was murdered in July 2018, only Peters will now have to be rearrested and recharged with the offence or summoned to appear in court.
As a secondary issue in the case, the Appeal Court was asked to consider whether the switch was possible, as the Summary Courts Act requires that summary charges be brought within six months of the commission of the offence.
The judges noted that the offence is alleged to have occurred between March 14, 2014, and July 24, 2015, and that the last date coincided with the six-month limitation period.
The preliminary inquiry into Seetahal’s murder before Cedeno has already reached an advanced stage.
The DPP’s Office was represented by Travers Sinanan while Mario Merritt represented the group.
Reporter: Derek Achong