THEY were part of a larger group who rioted in 2017 after being told their cases would have to restart because of the short-lived judicial appointment of former chief magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar.
Yesterday, after spending almost a decade on remand, six Diego Martin men were discharged after Chief Magistrate Maria Busby Earle-Caddle upheld no-case submissions by their attorneys, who argued there was insufficient evidence linking the six to the murder of Cepep worker Russell Antoine on May 13, 2010.
The six – Akili Charles, Chicki Portillo, Anton Cambridge, Kareem Gomez, Levi Joseph and Israel “Arnold” Lara – were among those prisoners who rioted at the magistrates’ court in April 2017, when they were told their almost decade-long preliminary inquiry was one of those that had to be restarted.
Their new preliminary inquiry began in March.
After his release, Portillo said, “At the end of the day, you know we get lock up since 2010, and it had a lack of evidence in the case and Marcia Caesar was to send we home, and she end up going on to a judge. That send we back in jail for about three years.”
He thanked God for Earle-Caddle, who he said was fair. “And see, everything work out in we favour. Thank God for that.”
Portillo said when the chief magistrate announced they were free to go, he started praying and thanking God for watching over their trial.
Ayers-Caesar, after being appointed a judge, resigned days later when it was discovered she had left 53 cases unfinished in the lower courts. Some of these cases were almost a decade old, including the case of the six men freed yesterday.
While many of the affected accused agreed to have their cases start over, Charles and the others instead chose to put the preliminary inquiry on hold and filed a constitutional claim, which sought to have thrown out the decision to restart the case.
Charles also claimed to have his case re-started would be oppressive, since he had been in jail since 2010, and had spent over $150,000 in legal fees before the preliminary inquiry was aborted.
In January, Justice Carol Gobin gave her decision in Charles’ claim as well as an interpretation summons sought by the Attorney General, who asked the court to determine how to conclude cases left unfinished by Ayers-Caesar.
She held that the law did not contemplate continuation of a part-heard matter by a magistrate other than the one who started it. She also had some harsh words on the debacle which resulted.
“What has happened here is a travesty of justice,” Gobin said in her decision.
“The stain on the administration of justice will remain indelible long after the cries and protests of justifiably angry suffering prisoners have gone quiet and long after the families of victims who, too, have been waiting for justice to be done, resign themselves to further delay.
“It may go some small way to alleviating the pain and injustice of this on all sides if those responsible are held to account.”
After yesterday’s hearing in the Port of Spain Magistrates’ Court, one of the men’s relatives – most of whom attended every hearing and, at times, wore T-shirts expressing their displeasure, said it should not have taken ten years for the men’s cases to be adjudicated.
“But nothing happens before its time,” the relative added.
The six were represented by Wayne Sturge, Criston J Williams and Danielle Rampersad. All but Cambridge were freed since he has been charged for a separate murder.
Earlier this month, three men who were also part of the group which rioted were also discharged of the murder of Morvant shopkeeper Shirley Thomas, on November 9, 2010.
After also spending almost a decade on remand, Nigel “Dufu” Mayers, Nick “Skinnies” Noreiga and Miguel Roberts were freed when Earle-Caddle upheld a no-case submission at the end of the prosecution’s case.