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Derek Achong

The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has been given the green light to use DNA evidence in the trial of two men, accused of murdering Sean Luke when they were teenagers.

Delivering a decision at the start of yesterday’s hearing of Akeel Mitchell and Richard Chatoo’s judge-alone trial, High Court judge Lisa Ramsumair-Hinds dismissed an application to stay the indictment against Mitchell, which was brought as prosecutors sought to introduce the evidence when the trial was already at an advanced stage.

In the application, Mitchell’s lawyers contended that the late submission of the evidence, which was only tested at a private laboratory, earlier this year, would prejudice their client’s case.

Though Ramsumair-Hinds agreed that the testing should have been done and the results disclosed before the end of the preliminary inquiry of the case, over a decade ago, she still ruled that the tardiness in test was insufficient to stop the case against Mitchell.

“That is atrocious,” Ramsumair-Hinds said as she referred to the delay, which she said was out of the control of the DPP’s Office.

Ramsumair-Hinds agreed that prosecutors had a duty to disclose the evidence as it had the potential to incriminate, exonerate or be neutral.

She noted that defence attorneys had been properly informed of the move to do the outstanding testing before the trial began in April.

Ramsumair-Hinds also pointed out that Chatoo’s attorneys had no issue with the late production of the evidence and wanted it to be used.

She also said that there was strong public interest in continuing the case and that a stay would still leave “a cloud” over Mitchell.

The application to stay the indictment was the third brought by Mitchell’s lawyers since Ramsumair-Hinds began managing the case last year.

In the first, they claimed that he was prejudiced as the prosecutor, who handled the case previously represented him briefly in the preliminary inquiry of the case before joining the DPP’s Office.

The second challenge was based on a claim that there was insufficient evidence to link Mitchell to the crime.

Both applications were rejected by Ramsumair-Hinds before she commenced the trial.

Testifying when the trial resumed was scientific officer at the Forensic Science Centre, Camille Grant, who worked on the case and inherited oversight of it after the retirement of a superior.

Grant testified that she and her colleagues tested Luke’s underwear and shorts that were found a day before his decomposing body was discovered in an abandoned sugar cane field that bounds his community in Couva in 2006.

She said that she found blood and semen on samples taken from the backside of both items.

Grant said that the samples were of a low concentration as only a few spermatozoa were seen under a microscope.

Questioned by Mitchell’s lawyer, Randall Raphael over the finding, Grant accepted that it could be due to the owner having a low sperm count or through degradation over time.

However, she admitted that she was unable to say when the samples were deposited on Luke’s clothing.

Grant was also quizzed extensively on the centre’s capacity to perform DNA testing.

She admitted that since joining the centre in 2001, it had equipment to perform such analysis but noted that the equipment was not currently function as they had not been calibrated or serviced since 2018.

Grant, who took charge of the case in 2014, stated that she only received the request for DNA testing from the DPP’s Office in April 2018.

She also said that there were no records of any request being made prior to her taking over the case.

Also testifying in the case was homicide detective Sgt Rajesh Radhaykissoon, who was appointed as substitute complainant in the case after the retirement of a superior.

Radhaykisson collected forensic exhibits in the case from the centre in preparation for the trial and submitted them to be tendered into evidence during the hearing.

Radhaykissoon also testified that he was present when DNA samples were taken from Mitchell and Chatoo in March and assisted in transporting the samples to a private laboratory for testing.

Since the trial commenced, a little over two dozen witnesses have given evidence.

The witnesses included Luke’s mother Pauline Bharath and two residents, who were among a group of children that went fishing with Luke when he disappeared.

Luke went missing on the evening of March 26, 2006 and his body was found two days later.

An autopsy revealed that he died from internal injuries and bleeding arising out of being sodomized with cane stalk.

Chatoo and Mitchell, who is the nephew of Chatoo’s stepfather and lived with them briefly before Luke’s murder, were charged with the crime.

Mitchell is also being represented by Mario Merritt and Kirby Joseph, while Evans Welch Kelston Pope and Gabriel Hernandez are representing Chatoo.

Sabrina Dougdeen-Jaglal, Anju Bhola and Sophia Sandy-Smith are prosecuting.