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Samdaye Rampersad

Five men from Claxton Bay, each serving a 28-year prison sentence for manslaughter over the death of San Juan businesswoman who was kidnapped and buried alive in 2006, are appealing their convictions.

Lawyers representing Phillip “The Boss” Boodram, Roger Mootoo, Ricky Singh, Kervin Williams and Aaron “Arc Eye” Grappie, presented submissions in their appeal during a virtual hearing before Appellate Judge Alice Yorke-Soo Hon, Mark Mohammed, and Prakash Moosai yesterday.

The group’s appeal centers around how the presiding judge in their trial handled the evidence of the State’s main witness Nigel “Cat” Rodrick, who implicated them for the murder of Samdaye Rampersad.

Presenting submissions on behalf of Mootoo, his attorney, British Queen’s Counsel Paul Taylor, claimed that the judge made multiple errors in advising the jury on how to consider the credibility and reliability of Rodrick’s evidence.

Taylor claimed that the judge failed to properly advise the jury that Rodrick agreed to implicate the men after he was allowed to plead guilty to felony murder in an unrelated murder he was held in connection with.

“The defence’s case was significantly undermined to the point at which it was demolished,” Taylor said.

Taylor also claimed that the trial judge inappropriately instructed the jury to consider the men’s defence before considering the State’s case against them, when in fact the State has the burden of proof in criminal trials.

In his submissions, Edward Fitzgerald, QC, who led Boodram and the other men’s legal team, claimed the jury was not properly reminded that Rodrick had an interest to serve in implicating the men.

He also suggested that the jury should have been properly informed that the murder Rodrick was allowed to plead guilty to occurred in similar circumstances and within two weeks of Rampersad’s.

Fitzgerald said based on the striking similarities, the jury could have concluded that both murders were orchestrated by Rodrick and that he possibly framed the group to avoid being prosecuted for both.

He also questioned the jury’s eventual decision to convict the men of the lesser offence of manslaughter, as he suggested that if they believed Rodrick they would have had to convict them of murder.

“This is a case where it is difficult to see how you could convict for manslaughter but not murder,” Fitzgerald said.

Attorneys representing the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) did not present their submissions during the hearing and are expected to do so when the court reconvenes on July 22.

Rampersad was kidnapped by masked men while standing in front of her home in Petit Bourg, San Juan, on November 25, 2005.

Her body was found 41 days later in a shallow grave in a cashew field in Carolina Village, Claxton Bay. Her brother, Mervyn, was contacted several times after his sister’s kidnapping by a man who demanded a $2 million ransom for her safe release, although at that time she was already dead.

One of the State’s witnesses, forensic pathologist Hughvon des Vignes, testified that an autopsy of Rampersad’s body showed she died of asphyxia and suffocation consistent with being buried alive.

In his testimony, Rodrick claimed he was present at a meeting at which the kidnapping was planned, and at Rampersad’s eventual death. He also alleged that Rampersad was kidnapped as he and the men wrongly believed that she was the mother of a man who had owed them money for drugs.

Nine men were initially charged for Rampersad’s murder, with three—Vivian Clarke, Steven McGilvery and Pernell Martin—being convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 30 years in prison in their first trial in 2009. Another accused, Bobby Sankar, was acquitted during that trial. The five remaining accused were put on trial again in 2012 but it ended in a hung jury.

They were eventually convicted during a second retrial which began in 2016 and lasted over a year. The men are also being represented by Rajiv Persad, John Heath, Kelston Pope and Gabriel Hernandez. Travers Sinanan and Tricia Hudlin-Cooper are representing the DPP’s Office.