The trial of two men, accused of murdering six-year-old Sean Luke as teenagers, was delayed yesterday as attorneys for one of the men resisted a move by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to introduce DNA evidence allegedly linking him to the crime.
In an application, which was raised yesterday as prosecutors from the DPP’s Office were set to call their forensic expert witnesses, lawyers representing Akeel Mitchell called for the indictment against him to be stayed based on the State’s tardiness to introduce such DNA evidence.
Attorney Mario Merritt claimed that his client would be prejudiced as he had already submitted a defence statement, in which he had denied the allegations against him and provided an alibi.
Merritt also pointed that as the trial had already begun, his client would not have the time or finances to retain independent scientific experts to challenge the State’s experts.
Presiding Judge Lisa Ramsumair-Hinds and lead prosecutor Sabrina Dougdeen-Jaglal initially appeared to be ambushed by the application as both indicated that they expected Merritt and his team to merely challenge the State’s application to use the evidence instead of applying for a stay.
“This piece of evidence changes everything,” Merritt said, as he claimed that he had to wait until the evidence was disclosed and the State applied to use it for him to make his challenge.
Responding to the application, Dougdeen-Jaglal questioned Mitchell’s position as she pointed out that she had repeatedly indicated that the samples were being tested well before the trial began, last month.
“It is not that this fell out of the sky,” Dougdeen-Jaglal said.
She noted that late last year, she indicated that the testing process was being delayed by the fact that this country did not have a certified laboratory to perform DNA testing.
She noted that on January 11, a legal notice was published, in which the Woodbrook-based Caribbean Forensic Services was certified.
She also stated that both Mitchell’s lawyers and those for his co-accused Richard Chatoo were aware that DNA samples were taken from them in March for testing.
She said as soon as the DPP’s Office received the results, they were disclosed.
She admitted that the delay in testing was far from ideal but said the State had a duty to perform it, disclose the results and use it if relevant.
“I would not sit here and say it is a commendable position,” Dougdeen-Jaglal said.
Ramsumair-Hinds appeared to agree with Dougdeen-Jaglal’s criticism of the delay.
“It is an atrocious state of affairs and not in relation to this case alone,” Ramsumair-Hinds said.
Dougdeen-Jaglal also questioned Merritt’s claim that the delay affected his client’s defence as she suggested that Ramsumair-Hinds could give him time to amend the document if required.
“You had 16 years to know what your defence is…It cannot change based on the temperature outside,” she said.
Dougdeen-Jaglal also noted out that Chatoo was not challenging the evidence and wanted it used in relation to him.
“DNA has the power to do three things-incriminate, exonerate, or be neutral,” she said.
After hearing the submissions, Ramsumair-Hinds postponed her decision to tomorrow morning.
The application to stay the indictment is third brought by Mitchell’s lawyers since Ramsumair-Hinds began managing the case, last year.
In the first, they claimed that he was prejudiced as the prosecutor, who handled the case before Dougdeen-Jaglal, represented him briefly in the preliminary inquiry of the case before joining the DPP’s Office.
The second challenge was based on a claim that there was insufficient evidence to link Mitchell to the crime.
Both applications were rejected by Ramsumair-Hinds before she commenced the trial.
Since the trial commenced, a total of 23 witnesses have given evidence.
The witnesses included Luke’s mother Pauline Bharath and two residents, who were among a group of children that went fishing with Luke when he disappeared.
Luke went missing on the evening of March 26, 2006 and his body was found two days later.
An autopsy revealed that he died from internal injuries and bleeding arising out of being sodomized with cane stalk.
Chatoo and Mitchell, who is the nephew of Chatoo’s stepfather and lived with them, were charged with the crime.
Mitchell is also being represented by Randall Raphael and Kirby Joseph, while Evans Welch Kelston Pope and Gabriel Hernandez are representing Chatoo.
Anju Bhola and Sophia Sandy-Smith are also prosecuting.