The constitutional right to a fair trial includes the right to appeal. In order to have this done, there needs to be a record of the trial proceedings.
However, in the case of three former Guyana Defence Force (GDF) Coast Guards who were convicted of murder and sentenced to death by hanging, some of these records cannot be located.
This is in spite of persistent efforts being made to obtain them by Assistant Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Dionne McCammon, as well as the men’s counsel.
In August, 2009, three former GDF Coast Guards, Sherwin Hart, Devon Gordon and Deon Greenidge were charged and remanded to prison for the August 20, 2009 murder of Bartica gold miner, Dwieve Kant Ramdass.
Following a preliminary inquiry, a Magistrate ruled that there was sufficient evidence against the men for them to stand trial for the killing before a judge and jury.
So in May 2013, the men went on trial before Justice Franklyn Holder and a 12-person jury. The prosecution’s case was that on the day in question at Caiman Hole in the Essequibo River, they forced Ramdass into their boat and took him to the aforementioned location where they relieved him of $17M in cash, which he was carrying in a box to Bartica for his employer, before dumping him overboard.
After much deliberation, the jury returned a unanimous guilty verdict in relation to each of them.
The three murder accused were then handed the death sentence.
On Wednesday, the three former GDF coast guards were arraigned at the Court of Appeal where they are challenging their conviction and sentence. Lawyer Nigel Hughes is representing Greenidge and Hart, while lawyer Latchmie Rahamat has been retained by Gordon.
At that hearing, Hughes and Rahamat raised a preliminary issue as it relates to the records of appeal. Hughes brought to the court’s attention that the records of the trial do not reflect a ruling made by the trial judge in relation to two of the appellants. The lawyer said that in an effort to get a hold of those records he has reached out the judge’s registrar for the minute book.
Rahamat, on the other hand, said that she represented Gordon at the trial stage and could recall the judge making a ruling after concluding the Voir Dire.
But according to her, this ruling cannot be cross-referenced with the court’s type written records. Apart from this, Rahamat pointed out that some of the evidence in the judge’s summing up was inaccurately reflected.
For example, Rahamat said that what was said by one of the witnesses is recorded as being said by another witness. Meanwhile, Assistant DPP, Dionne McCammon, noted that the records of the judge’s summing up seems disjointed and “some of the pages do not flow.” She said that efforts she made to acquire the recordings from the trial proceedings have thus far proven futile.
Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards, who is set to hear the appeal along with two other appellate judges, said that if “major portions” of the records are missing, the court may have to consider ordering a retrial for the three former GDF Coast Guards.
She, however, informed the lawyers that the absence of records of the judge’s summing up have not proven fatal in retrials. To support this position, the Chancellor cited a few case laws.
Chancellor Cummings-Edwards, nevertheless, said that the court will peruse the available record to consider whether or not it will be prejudicial to the appellants. In doing so, she said that the court will also make efforts to contact the women who took shorthand recordings of the trial proceedings. She said that the case will definitely be given priority by the court.
This case comes up again on Friday, November 8, at 10:00 hrs for reports.
It was reported that during the men’s three-month long trial at the High Court in Essequibo, the prosecution called 16 witnesses. The court would later admit caution statements said to be given by the men to police ranks.
Based on a previous report, Gordon in his statement said that he had only been a solider for about a year and a half. He said that he was stationed at the Coast Guard section and was doing patrol work, which was mainly the “stop and search of vessels”. It was between 13:00hrs and 14:00hrs on August 20, 2009, that Gordon, Hart and Greenidge were on patrol. Gordon said that they were doing searches with the Coast Guard boat.
He had stated that Hart drove the boat to Parika. He said he observed Hart speaking to an East Indian man while at Parika. The man later joined them on the coast guard boat and they moved off from Parika. It was noted in Gordon’s statement that the man was carrying a “brown box”. Gordon said when they were in the middle of the river; Hart stopped the boat and told them the man had “nuff money” in the box. Gordon in his statement said that all three of them decided to “kill the man” and “tek de money”.
Gordon also said that he did not see who threw Ramdass’s body overboard, but just heard a splash. He said that they divided the money and he called his sister to come and collect his share.
Gordon said that he gave a “canter man” the money to give his sister. However, soon after they all got arrested, including his sister. Greenidge, in his statement said that it was Hart who pushed Ramdass overboard.
He said that after Hart pushed Ramdass overboard, he (Hart) gave him along with Gordon several million dollars to “shut up”. During the trial, the prosecution had put forward both police and civilian witnesses. The defence counsel brought up challenges that the men were beaten while in police custody. All of the police witnesses denied this claim.
The men in their defence all said that they did not write the caution statements and that the documents were written by the police ranks.
While handing down the sentence to Hart, Justice Holder asked whether he had anything to say. Hart maintained his innocence to the court.
“I’m innocent of this charge, your Honour,” Hart said.
Gordon, on the other hand, declined to say anything, while Greenidge also maintained that he was innocent. “My honour, I’m not guilty…and it’s unfair for me to go to jail for something I know nothing about.”
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