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A police officer has been freed of murdering a man from Laventille, over a decade ago.

PC Anthony Sylvester was discharged by High Court Judge Hayden St Clair-Douglas at the end of his judge-alone trial, yesterday afternoon.

Immediately after the verdict was handed down, Sylvester, who was participating from a video conference room at the Maximum Security Prison in Arouca, thanked St Clair-Douglas.

Senior Counsel Israel Khan, who led his legal team, expressed similar sentiments. “In my 40 years at the bar, I have never heard such a complete analysis of evidence,” Khan said. Sylvester was accused of murdering Sheldon Des Vignes at his home at St Barb’s Road in Laventille on November 9, 2007.

During his trial, State prosecutors alleged that Sylvester and a colleague were chasing a suspect, who was wearing camouflage clothing, through an alley next to Des Vignes home when Sylvester discharged his firearm.

Des Vignes, who was allegedly playing cards with relatives in a shed on his family’s property, was shot in his head.

Sylvester was being prosecuted under the legal principle of transferred malice whereby a person is held responsible when their intention to harm one person inadvertently causes a second person to be hurt instead.

Sylvester testified in the trial and claimed that he was acting in self-defence.

Sylvester claimed that he and his colleagues from the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) were responding to a report of men armed with firearms and dressed in camouflage clothing liming in an area near Des Vignes’ home.

He claimed that the men ran away upon seeing them and he and one of his colleagues chased one of the men through the track.

Sylvester claimed that he slipped and fell and when he got up he saw Des Vignes pointing a gun at him from in his (Des Vignes) yard.

He claimed that he shouted at Des Vignes to drop the weapon and shot him twice when he refused to comply.

In analysing the evidence in the case, St Clair-Douglas rejected Sylvester’s defence as he noted that he (Sylvester) gave varying accounts to superiors whether he shot Des Vignes before or after he (Des Vignes) alleged pointed a gun at him.

He also noted that Sylvester did not surrender the gun that was allegedly recovered from Des Vignes when he made an initial report on the incident.

While two of Sylvester’s colleagues testified in his defence, St Clair-Douglas questioned how one, who claimed to have followed Sylvester in the alley, did not see Des Vignes pointing a gun at them. St Clair-Douglas also rejected the evidence of some of Des Vignes’ relatives, who claimed that Sylvester entered their yard and shot him at close range after a brief confrontation.

“They all have familiar ties and lived in the immediate area. They had reason to put their heads together and embellish their accounts,” St Clair-Douglas said, as he also rejected their claims that Sylvester picked up spent shells before carrying Des Vignes to the hospital.

“I do not accept evidence of picking up spent shells from the alley. She is either mistaken or lying,” he said.

He also noted that based on the evidence, the man, Sylvester and his colleagues were chasing, had already run away when Sylvester discharged his weapon meaning that he (Sylvester) did not have the intent to kill the man or cause him grievous bodily harm for the transferred malice rule to apply to Des Vignes’ death.

Having rejected Sylvester’s defence and the prosecution’s case for murder, St Clair-Douglas considered whether he could be convicted of the lesser offence of gross negligence manslaughter.

St Clair-Douglas ruled that Sylvester had a duty of care in discharging his firearm as it was done in a densely populated area on a public holiday when residents were at their homes.

He also said that the risk of death would have been obvious in the circumstances.

However, he noted that prosecutors did not lead evidence to prove that Sylvester’s conduct in the situation was well below the standard of a similarly trained officer, which is an essential element of the offence.

“The fact alone that a death has resulted from the conduct is not sufficient,” St Clair-Douglas said.

The trial before St Clair-Douglas is Sylvester’s second as his first ended in a hung jury, with jurors failing to come to a unanimous verdict.

Sylvester was also represented by Ulric Skerritt, while Indira Chinebas and Ambay Ramkellawan represented the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).