Prison calypso monarch freed after pleading guilty to 2012 murder

In this file photo, Romell Lezama sings Papi at the Trinidad and Tobago Prisons Service Inmates Carnival Showcase at Woodford Square in Port of Spain  -  Photo by Sureash Cholai
In this file photo, Romell Lezama sings Papi at the Trinidad and Tobago Prisons Service Inmates Carnival Showcase at Woodford Square in Port of Spain - Photo by Sureash Cholai

AFTER a decade in prison, a nine-time Youth Training and Rehabilitation Centre (YTRC) calypso monarch and reigning prisons calypso monarch, Romel “Papa Mel” Lezama, has been freed.

Lezama, who was at the YTRC until yesterday, made history this year when he became the first inmate ever to qualify for a National Calypso Monarch semi-final.

On Thursday, he also surprised his sentencing judge, Justice Carla Brown-Antoine, with a testimonial from acting Prisons Commissioner Deopersad Ramoutar.

“I have never seen a testimonial from a commissioner on behalf of a prisoner before,” Brown-Antoine admitted, saying it said a lot about Lezama’s rehabilitative efforts.

Lezama pleaded guilty to the murder of an Enterprise man in 2012.

Ramoutar recommended Lezama’s discharge for” his march of productive progress” to continue “outside this institution.”

Although no longer a teenager, Lezama remained at the YTRC when he became an adult on the advice of the prison administration, because of his good influence on other juvenile offenders.

Brown-Antoine also urged him to continue to live by the motto he projected in his calypsoes, “No more crime, no more gangs.”

She further encouraged him to continue speaking about his life and his experiences, also urging him to return, from time to time, to the YTRC to mentor those still incarcerated and assist with their rehabilitation.

A 20-minute video was shown which showcased his life as a youth prisoner over the past decade and his achievements as a boxer for the TT Amateur Boxing Association, a drummer in the Prime Minister’s Best Village competition, visits with family at the YTRC, radio interviews, newspaper articles and his Calypso Fiesta performance in February.

The video formed part of his plea in mitigation by his attorneys, Chief Public Defender Hasine Shaikh and public defender Ayanna Norville.

Lezama was before the judge charged with the murder of Shaundele Kinsale, 20, in Enterprise, Chaguanas, on August 2, 2012.

Because he was 16 when he shot Kinsale to death, Lezama, now 26, was sentenced as a minor.

He pleaded guilty on Thursday after he accepted the judge’s maximum-sentence indication, given at an earlier hearing. Brown-Antoine said in Lezama’s case, as with all minors charged with murder, the death penalty was not on the table.

She also said a life sentence did not apply in his case, since that is usually reserved for offenders with no possibility of rehabilitation.

Brown-Antoine also made it clear that judges do not sentence an offence, but the offender.

“An offence cannot serve a sentence. The offender has to serve the sentence, and the offence of murder can be committed in various circumstances. So the penalty will be different for each offender.”

Having considered that Lezama had served his time, she said her sentence was in accordance with the law as it related to minors, as well as the sentencing policy for youth offenders.

“He was young and impressionable when the offence was committed. Children are easily influenced by adults and by criminal elements…people of bad character they associate with.

“This was a young person influenced by people of bad character.”

She also made it clear that her sentence was not a reflection that Lezama’s life was more important than that of his victim.

“This is no disrespect to Mr Kinsale and his family. A life was taken, one he cannot return. No sentence can bring back a life.

"The offence was committed with an illegal firearm and used gratuitous violence. There was no reason for him to kill.”

The judge started with a sentence of 21 years for Lezama, but reduced it to time served after taking into account the mitigating factors and his plea.

She also said one of the aims of the sentencing process was to deter other would-be offenders, but bemoaned that murders have increased over the years.

“Now, murders are about 600 a year…It (the court’s sentence) hasn't deterred a lot of people.”

However, she said people needed to be taught to resolve issues without resorting to taking up a gun.

In his 2023 calypso, Lezama sang about getting caught up in gang life.

According to the evidence read out by prosecutor Giselle Ferguson-Heller, a year after the killing, Lezama surrendered to police, telling them he “doesn’t want to be in no crime again.”

On the day of the shooting, he went to lime with some friends and was given a gun and told to “swipe out” someone who was involved in a fight that broke out in the early dawn hours. He said he was told, “It could happen any time. Don’t hesitate, kill them.”

“I shoot and shoot until the fella fall and when he fall, I shoot him in the face three times.” He then ran home.

An autopsy said a gunshot to the neck was the fatal shot.

Lezama said when he returned the gun, he was threatened because he refused to kill “the archbishop’s son.”

He said he refused and he was threatened with a gun to his head.

“I heard (name called) say he go kill me.”

At his sentencing hearing, Lezama apologised to the court, Kinsale’s family, his brothers and sisters and the country for his actions.


"Prison calypso monarch freed after pleading guilty to 2012 murder"

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