LIES and subterfuge are the descriptions used by defence attorneys to describe the evidence of two prosecution witnesses against the six police officers charged with the murder of three Moruga friends in 2011.
The evidence of a civilian who claimed to have witnessed what took place at the corner of Gunness Trace and Rochard Douglas Road, Barrackpore, and a woman police officer who was also charged with the murders but was later granted immunity, was discredited on Thursday as defence attorneys began their closing addresses to the jury.
They also maintain other evidence, in particular CCTV footage of events that unfolded on the night of July 22, 2011, in Barrackpore, supported their contention that the officers acted in self-defence.
On trial before Justice Carla Brown-Antoine at the Hall of Justice, Port of Spain, are Sgt Khemraj Sahadeo and PCs Renaldo Reviero, Glenn Singh, Roger Nicholas, Safraz Juman, and Antonio Ramadhin.
They are charged with the murders of friends Abigail Johnson, 20, of St Mary’s Village, Moruga, Alana Duncan, 27, of Duncan Village, San Fernando, and construction worker Kerron “Fingers” Eccles, 29, also of St Mary’s Village.
It is the prosecution’s case that the three were unintended targets. The officers, prosecutors have alleged, were targeting Duncan’s common-law husband, Shumba James, who was allegedly wanted for two murders. In an opening address in July, lead prosecutor outlined the State’s evidence but did not include that of Nicole Clement, a police constable, who was part of the San Fernando robbery squad with the other six officers, which was pointed out by defence attorney Ulric Skerritt.
At the trial, Clement, who had the three murder charges against her discontinued after she was given immunity to testify against her six colleagues, was deemed a hostile witness. For four days, she refused to answer any question put to her by the prosecution or the defence.
In her evidence at the inquiry, she claimed two of the three Moruga friends – a man and woman – initially survived the “gunfight” at Barrackpore and were taken to a lonely road off the M2 Ring Road, Woodland, where they were executed. In April, this year, she wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions claiming she was the main suspect in the murders and had threatened her colleagues at gunpoint to follow her orders to kill the two civilians.
Fellow defence attorney Israel Khan, SC, described Clement as a “pathological liar.” Skerritt described her as “cunning.” The other witness whose evidence was discredited was that of Leeladeo Surujbally, a resident of Barrackpore, who went to purchase a barbecue meal where the killing took place.
“A blatant liar…a wicked man,” was Khan’s description of Surujbally. Khan said his evidence of multiple bursts of gunshots, of hearing an order to “shoot again” and of a woman saying, “Don’t shoot, I am coming out” was contradicted by the CCTV footage taken from a car parts business on Rochard Douglas Road, where the shooting took place.
Khan ended his address by having the video footage played again for the jury.
“The video footage saves the accused. We are relying on it. The recorder is not making up evidence.”
Khan also said there was no “second crime scene” as alleged by Clement. “She is crazy.”
He said all the other witnesses, including James, and the scientific evidence supported the defence as the white Nissan B15, in which the trio were in, had spent shells from the gun police allegedly recovered from the car which they suggested was used to shoot at them. There was also gunshot residue found in the car.
Khan reminded the jury the officers did not have to prove their innocence nor did they do anything wrong by choosing to remain silent. “Every accused is presumed innocent. They maintain they acted in self defence. The onus is on the prosecution to negative self defence. The State alleges so the State must prove.”
He said the allegation the officers killed the three friends was “spurious and unreliable.”
Skerritt admitted it was a “sad case for everybody.” Sad for the families who lost their relatives; sad for the officers’ families; and the accused themselves.
“It is an extremely sad case. Lives are lost and lives are on the shelf.” Both attorneys espoused their preference for jury trials as opposed to judge-only trials.
Skerritt also said, “As in life, you won’t know everything about this matter. You have to decide on the quality and truthfulness of the evidence. It has to satisfy you. You must be sure, nothing less will do.”
And, he told the jurors theirs was a “heavy duty.”
“You sit in judgement of your fellow human beings. If you get it wrong and say ‘guilty,’ and if the judge gets it right, they (the accused) can go to the Privy Council ten thousand times, it is you who matters. If you make a wrong decision, you have to live with that.”
He, too, said it was the right of the policemen to remain silent as advised. “They haven’t put themselves there. You can’t hold that against them.”
He, too, took the jury through the evidence, particularly that of Clement and autopsy reports which showed one of the women receiving more than eight injuries to the body while the man received one to the chest and three to the arm. Forensic evidence showed the shots Eccles received came from the right, Skerritt said. He also said it was “unfair” Clement would not respond to questions at the trial.
“She doesn’t explain to you why no rounds from that gun was found on that scene,” referring to the gun police said they recovered from the trio’s car and the “second crime scene” off the M2 Ring Road where they were allegedly executed.
Khan and Skerritt said Clement had an interest to serve as she did not want to be incarcerated for 13 years while waiting on a trial because of the young baby she had at the time of the incident.
Skerritt will continue his closing address today when the trial resumes. Lead prosecutor Gilbert Peterson, SC, will then make his closing statements.
Justice Brown-Antoine is expected to begin her summation and directions to the jury for three days, starting next Tuesday. Jurors will be expected to deliberate on Thursday, or Friday, if more time is needed.
The trial began on July 11. Also representing the six police officers is attorney Arissa Maharaj while Elaine Greene, Giselle Ferguson-Heller and Katiesha Ambrose-Persadsingh are also representing the State.