Senior Magistrate Indrani Cedeno has declined to recuse herself from the preliminary inquiry into the murder of former Independent Senator Dana Seetahal, SC.
Delivering an oral ruling at the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain yesterday morning, Cedeno ruled that she could not be judged as biased based on out-of-court discussions with Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) George Busby in November last year.
“Mere suspicion of bias is not enough, as a real suspicion should be established...A fair-minded observer would not conclude that this court is biased,” she said.
Immediately after giving the ruling, Cedeno asked Busby if the State was ready to restart submission of evidence in the case, which was put on hold since the issue of alleged improper communication was raised in July.
Busby said he would need time to speak to witnesses who still have to testify in the inquiry and asked that the case be adjourned to next week.
However, Cedeno refused as she pointed out she wanted to complete as much evidence as she could while the case is being heard at the Hall of Justice. The case will have to be transferred to the Port-of-Spain Magistrates’ Court when the 2018/2019 Law Term opens next week.
“I would urge the prosecution to get itself in order and have its witnesses here for the continuation of the matter,” Cedeno said as she adjourned the case to this morning.
Since the case started before Cedeno two years ago, prosecutors have tendered 50 witness statements into evidence and 10 witnesses have come to court and given evidence before Cedeno.
In November last year, Busby reportedly informed Cedeno that a relative of a police officer, who is a witness in the inquiry and another case before her, had received an apparent death threat via text message.
The message merely mentioned Seetahal’s assassination in May 2014 and alleged that a violent attack would be forthcoming later that month. It was not directed at Cedeno and the threat did not materialise.
While she claimed that the communication was not inappropriate, Cedeno admitted that she had cited the threat in a subsequent application for increased security.
In its submissions, the DPP’s office conceded that Cedeno may appear to be biased in the case and admitted that it was only aware of the communications after Cedeno made the disclosure.
Criminal defence attorney Criston Williams, who raised the issue of Cedeno’s recusal, was forced to withdraw from the case earlier this month after his clients requested that the application be withdrawn just as Cedeno was about to give her decision.
The Office of the DPP still requested that Cedeno make an official ruling on the issue, which she delivered yesterday.
Reputed gang leader Rajaee Ali and 13 alleged associates were charged with the crime a year after Seetahal was murdered on May 4, 2014. Seetahal was shot dead behind the wheel of her SUV while driving along Hamilton Holder Street in Woodbrook.
Ali, his brothers Ishmael and Hamid Ali; Devaughn Cummings, Ricardo Stewart, Earl Richards, Stephan Cummings, Kevin Parkinson, Leston Gonzales; Roget Boucher and Gareth Wiseman were initially charged with the crime.
In December last year, the murder charged was discontinued against Stephan Cummings, who was instead charged with conspiring to murder Seetahal. Ector was murdered earlier this year.