Not-guilty verdict in first virtual judge-alone murder trial

A VERDICT of not-guilty was on Tuesday delivered in the first virtual judge-alone murder trial.

Quincy Martinez was charged with the murder of Otym Abdul Claverie who was shot and killed in an apartment at Building 13, North Maloney Gardens, D’Abadie, on March 29, 2008.

The verdict was delivered by Justice Lisa Ramsumair-Hinds in keeping with the court’s emergency practice directions for covid19. Martinez was at the Santa Rosa facility under quarantine because of one in-person hearing he attended at the Hall of Justice, Port of Spain, during the trial for the purpose of a dock identification to take place.

An in-court or dock identification is where a witness identifies the prisoner in the courtroom as being the perpetrator they allegedly saw at the scene of a crime. The State’s main witness was Claverie’s brother, Ukomo Samuel who allegedly identified Martinez as the shooter.

In ordering his release, Ramsumair-Hinds told Martinez to not only be careful of the covid19 virus, but also the choices he makes. The judge said the one in-person hearing “caused no small measure of anxiety in the courtroom” although safety protocols of physical distancing, sanitising and the wearing of masks were followed. Those in the court that day had to take off their masks for a short time so that the dock identification could take place.

She said the decision by the Commissioner of Prisons – one which she said she would not interfere with – to quarantine Martinez was because the former “simply couldn’t trust that in exposing the prisoner to the court, the free public, he would return unaffected to the MSP (Maximum Security Prison).”

However, she said the hardship by the prison authorities caused her to question the need for the in-person hearing. She said her preference, so long as there is a public health threat involved, especially where there is little open ventilation, will be that trials should be done electronically.

It was because Martinez was in quarantine that the verdict was also not delivered at the Hall of Justice. The court’s emergency direction, which restricts the number of people entering the nation's courts and which allows for virtual or telephonic hearings, ends on June 15 unless amended before.

The trial began on May 15, and evidence was taken on May 19 from two prosecution witnesses. There was the formal admission of the evidence of ten witnesses and the trial lasted three days.

According to the prosecution’s case, Claverie was roused from sleep, walked out of the apartment, and had a verbal exchange with his killer, who then pulled out a gun, pointed it at him, and fired a shot.

Claverie ran back inside the apartment and, while kneeling on the floor, was shot three more times by the shooter who stood at the doorway.

Samuel testified that he heard his brother say, “Dan. Stop calling up mih name in yuh mouth,” to which the shooter replied, “You holding meeting to get mih partner killed. Ah not taking dat.”

Martinez, who was represented by attorneys Raphael Morgan and Kyle Fortune, did not testify at the trial. Instead, his defence was that the evidence against him was a fabrication.

In assessing the evidence, Ramsumair-Hinds held that Samuel’s evidence was fraught with frailties, conjecture, speculation, assumptions, and a host of inconsistencies and discrepancies. She said while it was evident Samuel suffered a loss the day his brother was killed, condolences aside, she did not believe him to be truthful and there was no other evidence connecting Martinez to the murder.

In her decision, the judge also urged attorneys in the criminal division, to adhere to the Criminal Procedure Rules.

“The rules are not without purpose,” she said as she observed that the absence of sanctions results in disregard for deadlines.

“If the rules are to bear similar fruit to those in the civil division, this culture cannot persist.”

The trial before Ramsumair-Hinds also, for the first time, saw the main witnesses taking the new oath which was recently introduced where witnesses and jurors are no longer required to swear on a holy book.

State attorney Stacy Laloo-Chong prosecuted.

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