Defence team objects to Arima Judicial Centre: 6 cops to boycott murder trial

Lead defence attorney Israel Khan SC.  -
Lead defence attorney Israel Khan SC. -

Six police officers accused of killing three people 12 years ago in Moruga are threatening to boycott their trial if the Judiciary insists on a hybrid hearing at the O'Meara Judicial Centre, in Arima.

The defence attorneys representing the accused have told the presiding judge, Justice Carla Brown-Antoine, that the O'Meara Court is "totally unfit" for the trial.

The accused are Cpl Khemraj Sahadeo and PCs Renaldo Reviero, Roger Nicholas, Glenn Singh, Safraz Juman, and Antonio Ramadin, all of the Southern Division. They have been incarcerated since they were arrested in 2011.

They were charged with the shooting deaths of Abigail Johnson, Alana Duncan and Kerron "Fingers" Eccles in Moruga in July 2011.

At the latest hearing on Wednesday, the judge set June 1 as the trial date.

At that virtual hearing, attorneys Israel Khan SC and Ulric Skerritt raised concerns about the proposed location. Arissa Maharaj is also part of the defence team.

The judge told the defence team  the San Fernando High Court is under renovation and would take six-nine months to be completed.

In a statement, the defence team saidbelieve the trial is "most unlikely" to be heard on June 1 at the complex.

The attorneys suggest the trial could be only heard either at the Princes Town Magistrates' Court, or at the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain, if the Director of Public Prosecutions transfers the matter there.

The defence team promised to participate in the trial only if it is fixed for hearing at the Hall of Justice, emphasising the Arima centre is "highly unsuitable."

The team charged that the centre's courtroom does not have seating for the public, there are holding cells with iron bars for the accused, the jury is about 40 feet away from the bar table and the witness box is about two feet from the judge and 20 feet from the bar table.

Additionally, they believe the lawyers’ view of the judge is obscured.

The defence team believes the trial will not start because jurors are expected to be selected at the Princes Town Court and taken by bus to the Arima court.

In the statement, the defence team said it is a travesty of justice to put the accused into the "iron cells," deny the public access to the court and select the jurors from the San Fernando jurisdiction and transport them to O'Meara.

"We will not condone this travesty of justice, and if we cannot get a trial at the San Fernando Court or Port of Spain, then the accused should be placed on bail, and when the San Fernando Court comes into operation in the six-nine months' time, the trial could then proceed," the statement said. "We refuse to assist the court in this travesty of justice and be part of this charade if the matter is going to be tried at the factory room in the O'Meara complex."

The statement also said it was premature to publish that this matter would proceed on June 1 "because the docketed judge has to give a very important ruling whether the matter would be proceeded" by that date.

Although the judge adjourned the case to May 29, she had set the trial date.

The defence attorneys had applied for Brown-Antoine to recuse herself, citing allegations of bias at a bail hearing on June 22, 2022.

Justice Carla Brown-Antoine -

A second judge, Justice Hayden St Clair-Douglas, was appointed, and requested a week to read the submissions and make a decision. On June 28, 2022, St Clair-Douglas told the court about an alleged phone conversation with Brown-Antoine and recused himself from the bail hearing.

The application for bail comes up in the Court of Appeal on May 31.

The Moruga killings sparked protests in 2011, when St Mary's residents blocked the Moruga Main Road with burning debris and placards ,demanding justice.

Both Johnson and Eccles lived in St Mary's Village. Duncan was from Duncan Village in San Fernando.

In 2013, a Princes Town magistrate committed the six accused policemen to stand trial in the High Court.

A female colleague, WPC Nicole Clement, was initially jointly charged with them but the charges against her were discontinued, and she is now the State's main witness. She was later charged with perverting the course of public justice.

Gilbert Peterson, SC, Elaine Green, and Giselle Ferguson Heller are prosecuting.


"Defence team objects to Arima Judicial Centre: 6 cops to boycott murder trial"

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