Oct 31, 2020 News
Kaieteur News – Lawyers arguing on behalf of Bibi Shareema Gopaul and her former lover, Jarvis ‘Barry’ Small, have raised contentions over what they term as prejudicial evidence led in the trial against the duo convicted for the murder of the Neesa Gopaul. Gopaul and Small have been notoriously linked to the gruesome killing of the 15-year-old Queen’s College student whose partially decomposed body was found in a suitcase submerged in a creek along the Linden Soesdyke Highway.
The body was recovered days after the teen was reported missing. In the suitcase, there was a sheet, black gown, passport and bank card bearing her name. A pair of dumbbells was also found attached to the case.
The dead teen’s mother and her stepfather Small were arrested, tried and sentenced to a combined 202 years by High Court Justice, Navindra Singh for the murder. However, the case which is regarded amongst the most widely publicized in recent years, has become the subject of an appeal.
Both Small and Gopaul have asked the Judges of the Appeal Court to review and repeal their conviction and sentence citing its severity and yesterday, attorneys Arud Gossai and Nigel Hughes, who are appearing for Gopaul and Small respectively have raised contentions over the evidence led in the trial, before the Appellate bench which was comprised of Chancellor of the Judiciary (Ag) Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards, and Justices Rishi Persaud and Dawn Gregory.
During their oral presentation, the attorneys pointed to several pieces of evidence, which they believe created a prejudicial basis for which their clients were convicted and sentenced.
Both lawyers claimed that the trial judge erred and misdirected the jury on several issues brought out in the trial including the evidence led by the prosecution’s alleged star witness, Simone De Nobrega, who shared a lockup cell with Gopaul. As it regards the issue of severity, the lawyers also relied heavily on a ruling of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in the case of Linton Pompey versus the State.
According to the lawyers, the CCJ in that case had ruled that the trial court should not hasten to pass sentences in matters but should apply the appropriate base, or starting point, before deciding the ultimate sentence. The attorneys noted further that the prescriptions of the Criminal Law Offences Act identifies 15 years as the base for murder, whereas Justice Singh in imposing sentences for the co-accused started with a base of 60 years each. Added to this, the lawyers noted that the trial judge offered no reasonable explanation for imposing such a lengthy sentence.
Hughes noted specifically that the only evidence led in the trial which allegedly linked his client, Small, to the murder is “a pair of dumbbells which were found submerged in a creek, along with the body of the teenage victim.”
The dumbbells, the lawyer noted, were purportedly identified by witnesses in the trial as the ones that belonged to his client. However, the lawyer pointed out that there was no clear cut evidence that could tie his client to the scene of the crime.
“No one knew how those dumbbells got there. All they had was a pair of dumbbells purportedly belonging to Mr. Small. There was no evidence led that could have tied him to the crime scene or the crime to properly have him committed for trial in the High Court or to eventually be convicted,” Hughes contended.
Further, the lawyer noted that based on the records of the trial, it is clear that the judge’s decision to overrule an application to sever the indictment resulted in highly prejudicial evidence been led against his client.
In this regard, Hughes cited the cellmate confession of De Nobrega, whom noted spoke to an alleged confession by Gopaul in which she implicated Small in the crime. The lawyer noted his client was not given a fair opportunity to rebut the alleged evidence of De Nobrega. Similarly, Gossai noted that the trial judge erred in law by admitting evidence which was more prejudicial than probative.
According to him, with regards to De Nobrega, the judge failed to properly caution the jury on the effect of her evidence. He noted that the trial Judge only told the jury that De Nobrega was a convicted prisoner awaiting trial.
“The judge failed to properly caution the jury in that he failed to put to them the fact De Nobrega was facing charges for crimes of dishonesty,” he stated.
Gossai stressed further that while the judge promised to properly guide the jury on the evidence of the cellmate confession, he stopped short in his warning calling on them to only be mindful of her alleged confession.
As such, Gossai held if the jury were given a fair warning that De Nobrega “was tainted by crimes of dishonesty or in Guyanese paradox someone who can con you” they would have been in a better position to decide whether they believe the story told by De Nobrega or not.
The lawyer noted that while De Nobrega testified that Gopaul told her that Barry [Jarvis Small] placed a rope around the neck of her daughter and that she was fighting up and kicking the dashboard as he did this, there was no evidence in the post mortem report of any marks of violence from the neck to the toes of the deceased.
“The learned trial judge directed the jury that the Appellant spent several hours with the other Appellant, Jarvis Small, at a hotel on the same day when she reported that the deceased was missing but failed, fundamentally, to direct the jury that the Appellant had given an explanation as to why she was there with Mr. Small,” the lawyer contended.
In response to the arguments of the two defence attorneys, State Counsel Stacy Goodings noted among other things that the evidence of De Nobrega was not inadmissible but rather relevant and cogent evidence against the accused.
Goodings, who represented the Director of the Director Public Prosecutions (DPP) in the case, noted that trial Judge cautioned members of the jury that De Nobrega, at the time when the story was told to her, was not a convicted prisoner but was awaiting trial and it is not unknown for such a person to place themselves in favour of the police. Goodings nonetheless said that she agreed with the defence lawyers as it regards the severity of the sentence.
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