The Court of Appeal has substituted a verdict of manslaughter for a man convicted of killing another man with a hatchet in 2007.
The judges allowed his appeal and quashed Vishnu Beharry's conviction.
Selivering their decision at a virtual hearing on Thursday, Justices of Appeal Alice Yorke-Soo Hon, Gillian Lucky and Malcolm Holdip said it was a fitting case to substitute the conviction of manslaughter, since the judge erred and he was deprived of the opportunity to have the jury consider the lesser charge.
They found merit in three of the six grounds of appeal filed on his behalf,
Yorke-Soo Hon gave the court’s reasons for allowing the appeal, and Lucky went through the sentencing methodology for the manslaughter conviction.
Starting with 20 years, the court shaved off four years for his previous good character; the four years he spent on death row; and the fact that he wanted to plead guilty for manslaughter, but heard nothing from the State on the proposal.
The 11 years and three months he spent incarcerated were also deducted.
Lucky told Beharry the fact that he was now sentenced to four years and nine months did not detract from the fact he had killed a man.
“A human’s life is sacred and the sanctity of life must always be remembered,” she said, as she urged him to spend the next four years getting his life in order for his return to society.
“You are 51 years old now, and you might get some relief from the prisons, By 55, most likely, you will be free. Do not go back to the way you were… reckless behaviour, drinking and doing drugs.”
His attorney, Sophia Chote, SC, said Beharry was a “rabid cricket fan” and she intended to write to the prison authorities to figure out what programmes could be made available to him as he serves out his time. Special prosecutor Travers Sinanan said Beharry could consider getting coaching badges through any cricket clubs willing to work with him.
In 2016, Beharry was convicted of murdering Samuel Jordon on April 9, 2007.
In his appeal, Beharry’s lawyers Sophia Chote, SC, and Peter Carter claimed the trial judge made errors in summarising the case to the 12-member jury, which eventually convicted their client.
At his trial, he admitted to chopping Jordon, but said he did so in self-defence and was provoked, but did not intend to kill him.
He said he had used cocaine for 17 years. He told police on the night of the incident, he was at the Palance Bar, in Tacarigua, drinking, and picked up a “piper” and went to Caura to “smoke some coke.” He said the man tried to rob him and he took a hatchet and “pelt a chop in the back seat.”
The men left the car and Jordon followed him with a boulder, which he pelted at the man. He threw the hatchet in the bushes and drove home.
At his appeal, Chote submitted that the judge focused on Beharry's claiming an alibi when in fact he had said he was provoked and acted in self-defence.
As a secondary issue, Chote submitted the judge failed to convene a voir dire to determine whether investigators had obtained Beharry's alleged confession statement properly, as, on the basis of the evidence, Beharry had an eye injury from the incident and was only taken for treatment after he spoke with police.
Chote also challenged the evidence of psychiatrist Prof Gerard Hutchinson, whom police asked to assess Beharry before the interview.
She said the judge allowed Hutchinson to go beyond his remit, as his evidence served as a confession, because Hutchinson repeated statements Beharry made during his mental-health evaluation.
In their ruling, the court found merit in the submissions on alibi, provocation and the failure by the judge to give the jury the option to find Beharry guilty of manslaughter because of his intoxicated state.
They did not find merit in the arguments relating to Hutchinson’s expert evidence, the holding of a voir dire and an issue dealing with the jury on the second day of the judge’s summation.