Two men from central Trinidad, sentenced to death for murdering a pundit during a home invasion and robbery in 2007, have won their appeals against their convictions.
Appellate Judges Alice Yorke-Soo Hon, Mark Mohammed and Prakash Moosai upheld Sunil Singh and Baldath Rampersad’s appeal in June last year, but only decided the fate of their cases during a virtual hearing yesterday.
The appeal panel ruled that Rampersad should face a retrial at a later date while Singh’s murder conviction should be substituted for the lesser offence of manslaughter based on the evidence in the case.
The panel did not set the appropriate sentence for Singh as it instead referred the issue to a High Court Judge for determination.
Singh and Rampersad are accused of murdering 54-year-old Kamal Harripersad on August 2, 2007.
According to the evidence presented in the case, the duo met with a mutual friend Jagdeo Persad in Freeport and went to a hardware.
The owner of the hardware, only identified as “Guyanese,” reportedly gave the duo instructions for Harripersad to be beaten.
The duo and Persad then went to Harripersad’s home at St John Trace, Orange Field Road, Carapichaima.
Persad, who eventually gave evidence on behalf of the State, claimed that he waited outside by his car as the duo went inside.
The duo allegedly beat Harripersad and demanded money and jewelry.
Harripersad’s wife Taramatie Lochan allegedly attempted to intervene but was beaten with a gun butt despite handing over $300 and some jewelry.
Persad claimed that when Singh and Rampersad emerged from the house, Singh was bleeding from a wound to his hand.
The duo and Persad were opposed by Harripersad’s relatives, who heard the commotion and responded, by they managed to escape after they allegedly threatened and beat them with their guns and cutlass.
Persad claimed that after dropping Rampersad off, Singh claimed that he was injured when he unsuccessfully attempted to stop him (Rampersad) from chopping Harripersad.
While both men raised five grounds of appeal each, only one was upheld by the panel for Rampersad and two for Singh.
The panel noted that the High Court judge, who presided over the duo’s trial in 2017, failed to seek clarification from the jury in relation to Rampersad, after the foreman prefaced their verdict with the words “I believe.”
“The trial judge ought go have interrogated the issue further in order to obtain a more definitive response,” the panel said.
“The ambiguity of the verdict related to the issue of sentencing and the penalty to be imposed, that is, the imposition of the mandatory death penalty for “classic” murder and a possible term of years for felony murder,” it added.
In terms of Singh, the appeal panel ruled that the judge failed to properly advise the jury over their option to convict him of manslaughter based on his role in the crime.
“Had the jury been properly instructed in this regard they may have convicted Singh of the lesser charge. He was therefore deprived of the benefit of such a verdict and consequently, we are not satisfied that the conviction was safe,” the panel said.
It also ruled that the judge placed undue weight on incriminating admissions made by Singh upon his arrest while ignoring exculpatory claims.
“His (Singh) intervention suggests that he had no intention to kill or to cause really serious harm to the deceased but only to cause him some harm by hitting him two slaps or giving him some licks,” the panel said, as it noted that proper directions by the judge may have led the jury to find that Singh was guilty of manslaughter as Rampersad possibly diverged from their plan.
Rampersad was represented by Sophia Chote, SC and Peter Carter while John Heath and Susan Kalipersad represented Singh.
Travers Sinanan and Mauricia Joseph represented the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).