A 31-year-old man of Tobago has been freed of attempting to murder his brother during an argument over a decade ago.

Delivering her judgment at the end of Kerbin Holder’s judge-alone trial on Wednesday, High Court Judge Gail Gonzales found him not guilty of attempted murder as she ruled that he acted in self defence.

The case stemmed from an incident near the siblings’ homes in Belle Garden, Tobago, on July 3, 2009.

According to the evidence presented during the trial, Holder’s brother Andrew approached him at a shop in the community to have a conversation.

After Kerbin repeatedly refused his requests, Andrew grabbed him and the siblings began to scuffle.

After the pair released each other, Kerbin ran to their father’s house and Andrew to their sister’s.

Andrew claimed that when he saw his brother approaching his sister’s property with a cutlass, he attempted to close the gate, which provides access between the properties.

Andrew claimed that Kerbin fired a chop at him, which he blocked with his hand. Andrew sustained a wound between his thumb and little finger. He claimed that Kerbin continued to threaten to kill him and also threatened their sister Alana, who came outside and attempted to intervene.

Kerbin left and allegedly returned with a broken bottle. However, Kerbin eventually left without using the improvised weapon.

In his defence, Kerbin claimed that when they left the shop, Andrew picked up a piece of iron and chased after him. He claimed that he found the cutlass in their father’s yard and used it to defend himself. Kerbin also alleged that his sister sought to confront him on Andrew’s behalf but was subdued by their father.

In assessing the evidence in the case, Gonzales said she had to determine Kerbin, Andrew, and their sister Alana’s credibility based on contradictions, inconsistencies, and omissions in their respective testimonies.

Noting that Alana reluctantly admitted that Andrew was chasing Kerbin during cross-examination, Gonzales ruled that she was not a credible witness.

“I felt given the relationship between herself and Andrew and herself and Kerbin, her evidence in favour of Andrew and against Kerbin must be viewed with a healthy dose of caution,” Gonzales said.

Gonzales also ruled that it was probable that Andrew was armed with the piece of steel as claimed by Kerbin.

“I find it highly unlikely that an unarmed person would go in the direction of a person armed with a cutlass unless he himself was armed,” Gonzales said, as she noted that Kerbin’s claims were plausible based on Andrew’s injuries.

She also noted that the threats made by Kerbin during the exchange did not take away his defence.

“Having found that Kerbin said he would kill Andrew I reminded myself that an intention to kill or cause grievous bodily harm is not inconsistent with an intention to defend oneself,” she said.

After finding that Kerbin believed that the chopping was necessary to defend himself, Gonzales had to consider whether such a response was reasonable in the circumstances.

“I do not think in the heat of the moment Kerbin had the opportunity to consider if this was a measured response…How was he to ward off an impending attack?” Gonzales said.

The case was prosecuted by Stacy Laloo-Chong and Kezia Burkette.

Having found Kerbin not guilty of attempted murder, Gonzales had to also decide whether he was guilty of the lesser and alternative offence of wounding with intent.

Gonzales ruled that he was also not guilty based on the same defence raised in relation to the other charge.

The case was prosecuted by Stacy Laloo-Chong and Kezia Burkette.

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AG highlights case

In a press release issued on Wednesday evening, the Office of the Attorney General sought to highlight the case, which it said highlighted four pillars of criminal justice reform piloted by it over the past five years.

The release noted that Holder was defended by attorneys Stephen Wilson and Renee Atwell of the Public Defender’s Department which was established last year.

Wilson and Atwell participated in the case from the department’s offices at Stanmore Avenue, in Port-of-Spain, which cost the State approximately $10 million.

The trial was also conducted via video conference, which was introduced in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“This process was able to alter in-person hearings to that of a virtual platform for courtrooms and has since saved the country approximately $25 million in transport fees for remanded persons,” the release said.

Holder also elected to have the trial heard by a judge as opposed to a judge and jury. Such an option was introduced via legislation passed by Parliament in June 2017.

“Despite significant resistance and obstruction by the Opposition against judge-only trials, this judgment symbolises the realisation and amalgamation of the four pillars of justice reform,” the release said.