Delivering a judgement in their appeal, yesterday morning, the United Kingdom-based Privy Council ruled that the local Court of Appeal got it right, three years ago, when it refused to admit fresh evidence from the State’s main witness, Junior Grandison, who claimed to have falsely accused them of the murder of Thackoor Boodram.
“The Court of Appeal did not apply too high a test of credibility when deciding whether to admit the fresh evidence. The Court analysis was comprehensive and necessarily robust,” Dame Julia Macur, who wrote the written judgement, said.
Michael “Rat” Maharaj, Samuel Maharaj, Damiah Ramiah, Bobby Ramiah, Seenath Ramiah, Daniel Gopaul, Richard Huggins, Leslie Huggins, Mark Jaikeran and Junior Phillip were convicted of murdering Boodram in late 1997. Boodram, a pig farmer, was kidnapped from his home in south Trinidad on December 20, 1997.
A ransom was demanded by his abductors, but 10 days later his head was found in a whiskey box at the Caroni Cremation Site.
The group was eventually convicted in August 2001.
Their appeals to the Court of Appeal and Privy Council were rejected, but the latter commuted their death sentences to life imprisonment as there had been delays between their convictions and their appeals.
In June 2011, Grandison gave the sworn statement in which he claimed to have been coerced by Boodram’s other brother Pandlal into implicating the men, who he knew. The two allegedly met in prison, while Grandison was awaiting trial for the murders of Ian George and Walter Regis and the attempted murder of Courtney Reid.
The charges against Grandison were dropped in exchange for his testimony against the group. In 2014, the President referred the matter to the Court of Appeal to consider whether Grandison’s new claims could be admitted.
In rejecting the fresh evidence, the Court of Appeal took into account the fact that Grandison refused to testify before them during a hearing of the appeal in 2017. They rejected recorded telephone conversations between Michael Maharaj and Grandison, which the men were contending proved that Grandison had admitted to fabricating the case. While the judges agreed that it was Grandison in the recordings, they said that he was being led on by Maharaj.
“In orchestrating these phone calls and leading Grandison in the conversations presented to us, Maharaj has demonstrated the capacity and intent to manipulate the evidence presented to this Court. Objectively, these actions and the evidence procured thereby do not bear the hallmarks of credibility,” the Court of Appeal said.
In its judgement, the Privy Council did not fault the local court’s analysis of the phone transcripts, which were relied on by the men.
“The focus on selected dialogue lacks perspective. The findings were neither perverse or irrational,” Dame Macur said.
The Privy Council also rejected complaints that the Appeal Court focused on the fact that Grandison’s initial claims against the men were corroborated by other witnesses in the case.
“The extent and nature of the independent support is irrelevant in light of the Court of Appeal’s definite view upon other issues in the appeal,” Dame Macur said.
Although the men were also challenging their commuted life sentences in the appeal, the Privy Council deferred its consideration of the issue.
The Privy Council said it would wait until it hears and determines a final appeal of 82 former death row inmates, whose sentences were similarly commuted.
In that case, the Court of Appeal ruled that they should not have been given blanket sentences of life imprisonment but rather should have been given defined terms of imprisonment based on the unique circumstances of their cases. That case is scheduled to come up for hearing in the Privy Council, next month.
The group was represented by Edward Fitzgerald, QC, Amanda Clift-Matthews, Jagdeo Singh, Karina Singh and Suneesh Singh.
Tom Poole, QC, and Hannah Fry represented the State.