Steven McGillvery

After spending more than 15 years in prison for manslaughter arising out of the death of a businesswoman who was kidnapped and buried alive in 2006, a man has been freed.

In late June, the United Kingdom-based Privy Council upheld Steven McGillvery’s appeal against his conviction.The appeal panel did not immediately order a retrial for McGillvery as it invited written submissions on the issue from his attorneys and those for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

As the Office of the DPP subsequently indicated that it was not seeking a retrial for McGillvery, the Privy Council ordered his release. McGillvery, Vivian Clarke, Pernell Martin, Phillip “The Boss” Boodram, Roger Mootoo, Ricky Singh, Kervin Williams, Bobby Sankar and Aaron “Arc Eye” Grappie were charged for the murder of Samdaye Rampersad.

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.

The State’s main witness against the men was Nigel “Cat” Roderique, who 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 she was the mother of a man who had owed them money for drugs.

The trio was convicted during the first trial in 2009 with Sankar being acquitted. They were sentenced to 30 years in prison.The jury could not agree on a verdict for Boodram and the others.

The five remaining accused were put on trial again in 2012 but it again ended in a hung jury. They were eventually convicted during a second retrial which began in 2016 and lasted more than a year. They were sentenced to 28 years in prison.

The five men are currently challenging their convictions before the Court of Appeal.In the appeal before the Privy Council, McGillvery, Clarke and Martin were claiming the judge who presided over their trial made an error when he did not allow their attorneys to question Roderique over his statements to police in another kidnapping and murder case in which he was a suspect.

Roderique was allowed to plead guilty to felony murder in relation to that case in exchange for his testimony in Rampersad’s case.In the judgement, the Privy Council agreed that if the men’s lawyers were allowed to pursue the questioning it would have allowed the jury to better assess Roderique’s credibility.

In the appeal, State attorneys had asked the panel to apply the proviso under Section 44 of the Supreme Court of Judicature Act by which an appeal panel can maintain a conviction even with errors by a presiding judge, if no serious miscarriage of justice occurred.

The panel ruled that it applied to Clarke and Martin as they allegedly gave statements to police in which they confessed that they participated in the kidnapping and not the murder, as claimed by Roderique.It could not apply to McGillvery as he admitted to being aware of the kidnapping but chose not to participate.McGillvery and another inmate of the Carrera Island Prison managed to escape in August 2015 but he was recaptured in an abandoned warehouse in Sea Lots, two years later.