October 1, 2016

Appeal Court orders retrial for acquitted accused

James Hyles

James Hyles

Lusignan Massacre

After a 12-member jury panel found Mark Royden Williams and James Anthony Hyles not guilty in August 2013 for the murders of 11 persons, including five children, during the 2008 Lusignan Massacre, the Appellate Court has ruled that a retrial be held.

The Chambers of Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had appeal the outcome of the sensationalised case on several grounds, including the fact that the foreman of the jury, Vernon Griffith, failed to inform the court that he was a client of one of the defence attorneys Nigel Hughes.

On Tuesday morning, the Appeal Court handed down its decision after it found that the initial trial was flawed, thus allowing the appeal and ordered a re-trial in what is considered one of Guyana’s most horrific mass-murders.

The panel of Appellate Judges was led by acting Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Carl Singh; acting Chief Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards; and Justice BS Roy. Also present in the courtroom were DPP Shalimar Ali-Hack, Attorney Roger Yearwood who is representing Williams and Attorney Hughes who is representing Hyles.

Mark Williams

Mark Williams

Justice Cummings-Edwards read the Court’s decision which dealt with seven grounds. The first was in relation to the mini-trial that was held to vet the jurors before they were empanelled. The Appellate Court said that there is no common law or statutory provisions for this to be done, and as such, the trial Judge, Justice Navindra Singh, “erred in law” by allowing this.

The second ground dealt with the fact that the trail Judge permitted the cross examination of Police witnesses in relation to alleged improprieties by the Police without informing them they would have to substantiate it. Thirdly, the Appeal Court Judge found that the exclusion of 76 photos from the trial ought not to have happened.

The Appellate Court went on to deal with the issue of joint enterprise, agreeing with the DPP that the jury was not adequately directed on the issue of joint enterprise.

On the matter of the foreman being a client of one of the defence counsels for over a five-year span, the Justices of Appeal pointed out that this was not disclosed by either of the parties to the trial Judge at anytime during the trial. The court is of the opinion that the foreman had the ethical and legal duty to disclose his relationship with the attorney and by not doing so, the neutral role of the juror was compromised.

Chancellor Singh added that this was a serious error of judgment on the part of Attorney Hughes when he failed to disclosed to the court that he knew the jury foreman.

In relation to the sixth ground which dealt with the fact that the trial Judge did not hold an inquiry when it was brought to his attention by the State Counsel that one of the jurors was seen showing the “thumbs up” sign to the father of the number two accused, the acting Chief Justice outlined that the Appellate Court felt that the trial judge ought to have held an injury into the complaint since it was the paramount duty of him to hold an inquiry.

Finally, Justice Cummings-Edwards declared on the matter of trial Judge directing the jury to determine whether the Caution Statement (CS) of the two accused was made freely and voluntarily, that the voluntariness of the Caution Statements is not an issue for the jury to determine.

After the 12-member panel led by Griffith found Hyles, known as “Sally”, and Williams, called “Smallie”, not guilty of murder on August 2, 2013, the trial Judge, Justice Singh remanded Williams to prison because of pending matters at the time, while Hyles was placed on $1.1 million bail after senior State Counsel Judith Gildharie-Mursalin had served the court notices of the intent of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to appeal the matter.

During the wee hours of Saturday, January 26, 2008, gunmen stormed into the village of Lusignan, on the East Coast of Demerara, and murdered 11 people, including five children.

Police believed that the gunmen who were armed with shotguns and AK-47s entered the village around 02:00h, and invaded the homes of five families. Within 20 minutes, they carried out the rampage.

Those killed were Clarence Thomas, 48; Vanessa Thomas, 12; Ron Thomas, 11; Mohandan Goordat, 32; Seegopaul Harilall, 10; Seegobin Harilall, 4; Dhanwajie Ramsingh, 52; Seecharran Rooplall, 56; Raywattie Ramsingh, 11; Shazam Mohammed, 22; and Shaleem Baksh, 52.

The mastermind of the massacre was believed to be Rondell “Fineman” Rawlins. It was believed that Rawlins retaliated after his 19-year-old girlfriend, Tenisha Morgan, vanished on January 18, 2008 while on her way to a city hospital to deliver her baby.

Rawlins believed that his girlfriend was kidnapped by law enforcement officials in an effort to force Rawlins to turn himself in. The Joint Services have since denied this claim.

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