State at trial of 6 cops: It was murder

Special prosecutor Gilbert Peterson, SC -
Special prosecutor Gilbert Peterson, SC -

DID the police cross the line and commit murder when they shot at three Moruga friends in Barrackpore in 2011?

This is the question 12 jurors will have to answer when they deliberate on their verdict next week.

However, according to the prosecution, the evidence shows “this was a clear case of murder,” with no element of self-defence as posited by the defence.

The fate of six police officers 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 now depends on the jury’s verdict after they receive their instructions on the law and final review of the evidence from the trial judge.

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.

On Friday, lead prosecutor Gilbert Peterson, SC, who opened the State’s case on July 11, delivered his final address to the jury, tying together the evidence led by his team against the six.

He rubbished the police officers’ self-defence and use of reasonable force contention.

“Self-defence has no basis in this case.”

He also said the defence “cherry-picked” the evidence, none of which, he said, was suppressed by the State; even if it was not tendered, it was disclosed.

He also said there was no rebuttal evidence from the defence to counter the State’s evidence.

“No one says they saw a gun pointed at them or they saw a gun.

“They remained silent as is their right.”

Even the first officer on the scene testified that no one told him they were shot at, Peterson said.

When he opened the State’s case, Peterson said the three friends were unintended targets as the officers, who were all members of the robbery squad in the southern division, were targeting Duncan’s common-law husband, Shumba James.

But Peterson pointed out that only hours before, James had gone to the Moruga police post to sign as part of his bail conditions.

“What is crucial is when they left, what was the plan? Arrest or shoot him down?”

He later said, “It is not in dispute they shot in the car. What you have to determine is if they did so in self-defence and if the force used was reasonable.”

Peterson said the evidence was clear the three died from gunshot injuries. “You have to determine if what transpired is murder,” Peterson told the jurors.

He also suggested they pay no regard to the “guilt trip” they were put on by the defence attorneys who advised them theirs was a “heavy duty.”

“You have good officers. Of course, they put their lives on the line. We applaud that... You have good police officers, and you have bad ones.”

Peterson pointed their attention to the video footage, which the defence said “saved the accused,” the evidence of the civilian witnesses, the hundreds of pages of scientific reports and that of Nicole Clement, one of the officers who was originally charged with the murders but turned State witness after she was granted immunity to testify against her colleagues.

Peterson said there was nothing “sinister” with that deal as the law allowed it. WPC Nicole Clement turned hostile at the trial, saying she was not giving evidence because of “safety and security concerns.”

Peterson said although she refused to answer questions at the trial, she did not recant the evidence she gave at the preliminary inquiry,

“She said why she was not testifying…If the DPP thought she reneged on the plea deal, then the DPP would deal with that.

“… it is not over for Nicole Clement.”

Peterson paid particular attention to a police-issued semi-automatic pistol. A bullet taken out of Duncan’s body matched one fired from the nine-millimetre pistol. A cartridge casing matching that pistol was also found at a lonely road off the M2 Ring Road, deemed to be the “second crime scene,” where Clement alleged Duncan and Eccles were taken and executed by three of her colleagues while three others remained at the “first crime scene” in Barackpore, according to the evidence.

“It all adds up.”

The defence attacked the evidence of the alleged “second crime scene,” saying it did not happen, also suggesting the bullet casings and latex glove found there were planted by Clement. This, Peterson said, was a “flight of fancy” on the part of the defence.

He also maintained that the scientific evidence demonstrated it (the second crime scene) happened.

Nevertheless, he said, it did not matter where the three were killed, “on the first scene or second scene. They all died of gunshots at the hands of police officers.”

Peterson referred to the medical reports from the Princes Town health facility, which showed the time the police brought the three for medical attention after the shooting in Barrackpore. The time of arrival was stated as 9.40 pm, while the time-stamp on the CCTV footage of the shooting at Gunness Trace and Rochard Douglas Road was just after 8 pm.

“An hour and a half after what should have been a 15-minute journey. That is the evidence. How can the defence explain that? There is no explanation.

“How can that be explained away? M2 Road happened and cannot be wished away,” Peterson said, as he maintained it was not difficult to conclude the “second crime scene happened.”

But, he added, “Even if you disbelieve there was a second scene, you have the first scene.”

The special prosecutor also said there was no accounting for the damage to the two police vehicles or the cluster of shots found on the inner door post of the white Nissan B15 the three friends were in when the officers shot at them.

“Your duty is to assess the evidence. You are entitled to believe part of it or all of it. If you are sure, you find them guilty, if you have doubts, you acquit,” Peterson told the jury as he also urged them to approach the evidence objectively.

“When you scrub the evidence, you will find it is a clear case of murder.”

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 six police officers are represented by Israel Khan, SC, Ulric Skerritt and Arissa Maharaj while Elaine Greene, Giselle Ferguson-Heller and Katiesha Ambrose-Persadsingh are also representing the State.


"State at trial of 6 cops: It was murder"

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