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Trio wins appeal against life in jail
In a landmark ruling, the Court of Appeal yesterday gave detailed advice to trial judges on the sentencing of accused people, who are allowed to plead guilty to murder. Three appellate judges gave the sentencing guidelines while ruling in favour of three men who admitted to murdering a taxi driver during a robbery in 2002 and were sentenced to “life imprisonment without the possibility of parole”.
The thee men—Alexander Don Juan Nicholas, 36, Gregory Tan, 35, and Oren Lewis, 31—became the first people to be allowed to plead guilty to murder in T&T’s history, when they did so before Justice Andre Mon Desir in the San Fernando High Court, last December. In allowing the appeal, Justice Paula Mae-Weekes, Alice Yorke Soo-Hon and Rajendra Narine agreed with the trio’s lawyers that the sentence imposed on the men was “unknown to law” as there were no provision for parole in local legislation.
Instead the court ruled that the trio’s sentence should have been 30 years’ imprisonment. However, they will only serve 18 years and ten months of the sentence, as the court deducted the period they spent on remand awaiting trial and the time they spent in prison after being sentenced. In a 25-page judgment, head of the appeal panel, Weekes, noted that a trial judge had the discretion to impose the death penalty in cases where the facts of the crime could be considered the “worst of the worst” or the “rarest of the rare.”
However, Weekes said the trio’s incident did not fall in that category, while saying: “Our society has unfortunately experienced murders far more disturbing, revolting and deviant than perpetrated by the appellants.” Weekes also advised that trial judges could still pass the death sentence on an accused person even if prosecutors did not suggest it. The judge also said trial judges could only consider life sentences where there was evidence that the convicted person was beyond rehabilitation.
She noted that in that case the trio’s attorneys also provided probation officers reports which showed they were remorseful and had shown positive signs of rehabilitation while on remand, awaiting trial. “Apart from the circumstances of the offence, what must loom large in considering whether a life sentence is appropriate is the possibility or likelihood of the appellant being rehabilitated to the extent that he could be safely returned to society,” Weekes said.
According to the State’s case in their trial the trio, along with another man, boarded Boodoo’s vehicle in Arima and pretended to be passengers and then hijacked him. Nicholas drove Boodoo’s car while the other two beat him in the back seat. Tan and Lewis used Boodoo’s belt to choke him. They put his body in the trunk and went to a gas station where they bought snacks with the $63 they stole from him.
They then threw his body into the Mayaro river and attempted to sell his car for parts before being arrested. Tan was represented by Jagdeo Singh. Keith Scotland and Asha Watkins-Montserin represented Nicholas while Daniel Khan appeared for Lewis. Dana Seetahal, SC, and Ria Reyes appeared for the State.
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