Two of Sean Luke’s neighbours who were part of a group of teens and children that went fishing with the six-year-old when he went missing in March 2006 have testified against two of their former acquaintances on trial for the crime.
Avinash Baboolal and Arvis Pradeep gave their evidence and were cross-examined by Richard Chatoo and Akeel Mitchell’s lawyers over the past week and a half.
High Court Judge Lisa Ramsumair-Hinds, who is presiding over the duo’s virtual judge-alone trial, had prohibited the publication of Baboolal and Pradeep’s evidence until they both completed their respective testimonies.
Baboolal completed his earlier this week, while Pradeep’s was completed during yesterday’s hearing.
In his evidence, Baboolal, who was 17 at the time, said that he asked Pradeep to go fishing by a river in their community at Henry Street, Orange Valley Road, Couva.
Baboolal claimed that he and Pradeep went to Chatoo’s house and he (Chatoo) agreed to join them.
Chatoo’s two nephews and Mitchell, who was the nephew of Chatoo’s stepfather and recently moved in with them, joined the group.
Baboolal claimed that Chatoo, who lived next door to Luke, went over to his (Luke) house and invited him as well.
Baboolal alleged that while the group was walking through an abandoned cane field, which bounds the community and leads to the river, Chatoo, Mitchell and Luke diverted and went into another path in the field.
Baboolal claimed that he and the remaining children sat in the field and waited for several minutes for them.
“I hear a loud screel like someone raised the volume on a microphone,” Baboolal said.
He said that a few moments later Chatoo and Mitchell reappeared.
He claimed that Chatoo told him that Luke was defecating in the cane field and would return home when he is finished.
Baboolal claimed that he, Chatoo, Pradeep and Chatoo’s nephews then made their way to the river.
He claimed that he turned around and saw Mitchell going back into the path, which he, Chatoo, and Luke had entered previously.
Baboolal said that after they had caught a fish, he and the group returned home.
He said that they found Mitchell sitting at the side of the road near to Chatoo’s house.
Baboolal said that later than night, a villager came to his home and asked whether he had seen Luke.
He said that he told him that Luke was at home based on what Chatoo had told him.
Baboolal then joined a search party that was assembled to search for Luke.
While being repeatedly questioned over what transpired, Baboolal admitted that he did not tell the fellow villagers or Luke’s family what he had seen and did not direct them to search the path he last saw Luke going through with the duo.
Baboolal also admitted that he gave varying accounts to the police when he was questioned by them.
“I knew something was wrong but I was fearful of the police,” Baboolal said.
“I was being roughed up and asked all kinds of things I did not know the answer for,” Baboolal added, later in his testimony.
Questioned over why he chose not to search the area the group had visited, Baboolal claimed that he genuinely believed that Luke had made it home and was kidnapped from there.
“I was told he went home, so it was not a concern to me,” he said.
While being cross-examined by Mitchell’s lawyer Mario Merritt, Baboolal admitted that he had met Mitchell for the first time that day and did not interact extensively with him.
Merritt also sought to question Baboolal’s sexual orientation.
Baboolal appeared irritated by the questioning but claimed that he had a girlfriend from school.
Asked whether he had an interest in “little boys”, Baboolal said no.
“Are you accusing me of something, sir?” Baboolal asked.
Baboolal also admitted that after he was released from police custody, he and his family had to immediately move out of the area.
“I came home to find my family home on fire,” Baboolal said.
In his evidence, Pradeep, who was 13-years-old at the time, was somewhat consistent with Baboolal except for some inconsistencies.
Pradeep claimed that Baboolal had pestered him to go on the fishing expedition.
“He was nagging me and I said yes,” Pradeep said.
Pradeep admitted that Baboolal asked Chatoo to join them and he agreed and brought Mitchell and his nephews along.
He also claimed that Chatoo went by Luke’s house and he (Luke) joined them.
However, Pradeep claimed that the group made it to the river and were fishing when Chatoo, Mitchell and Luke went into the path.
Like Baboolal, Pradeep claimed he heard a strange noise which he described as screaming and bawling.
He also did not go into the path to investigate.
He also claimed that when Chatoo and Mitchell returned he did not hear him (Chatoo) say anything about Luke.
Pradeep said he stayed with the group for a while and Baboolal left and returned with snacks he purchased at a shop.
Pradeep claimed that he left the group and used another path in the cane field to go to a beach facility in the area.
“I was ready to leave. I started to feel strange,” Pradeep said.
He was talking to a security guard, when he claimed that Baboolal came from the field and asked him to rejoin the group.
Pradeep declined and asked the guard for a lift back to the village.
While being cross-examined, Pradeep also admitted that he gave varying accounts to police and when he was testifying in the preliminary inquiry in the case
Pradeep claimed he did not trust the police and claimed that he may have forgotten some details of what transpired.
“I am not an educated fella. When you teach me I does forget things,” he said.
He also claimed that he did not tell anyone that he went on the fishing expedition or about Luke as he did not get his parents permission to go and did not want to be punished by them.
Pradeep claimed that when he was questioned by police the following day, he could not remember the exact location of the path that Luke allegedly went into with the duo.
Pradeep was also questioned over his sexual orientation as Merritt pointed out that during the preliminary inquiry, Pradeep allegedly said he “liked little Indian boys”.
“I don’t like Indian boys or African boys…What I was saying is I did not trust anybody,” Pradeep said.
Pradeep also maintained that a villager and his sister had told him Luke was dead the day after he went missing, even after the duo’s attorneys pointed out that his body was found the following day.
Baboolal and Pradeep are the 17th and 18th witnesses to testify since the trial commenced, last month.
Thirteen of the witnesses, including Luke’s mother Pauline Bharath who completed her evidence on Monday, have testified in-person from virtual court facilities at the San Fernando High Court.
Luke went missing on the evening of March 26, 2006 and his body was found two days later in an abandoned sugarcane field, which bounds his community.
An autopsy revealed that he died from internal injuries arising out of being sodomized with a cane stalk.
The trial will resume on Monday when Dr Eastlyn McDonald-Burris, the forensic pathologist, who performed the autopsy on Luke’s body is expected to testify.