A man, who was charged with hacking to death four members of a family, walked free yesterday. After a two-month-old trial, the 12-member jury took just 45 minutes to return not guilty verdicts.
It was no All Fools' Day joke, but State prosecutor Jennifer Martin looked stunned at the verdicts. Lead defence attorney Osbourne Charles SC was more relieved, saying this was a legal aid brief. After he was acquitted Harrilal Matthew said: "I wonder how the State is going to pay me for the nine years I have been in jail." As he walked down the steps of the Hall of Justice, Port-of-Spain, Matthew seemed confused as to where he should go. Armed with a suitbag and two other bags, Matthew headed east along Knox Street, saying he had family to return to, although he was alone in court. Justice Devan Rampersad, presiding in the Port-of-Spain Fourth Criminal Court, started his summation on Wednesday and ended at 10.14 am yesterday. Soon the jury was ready. The stone-faced jurors returned to the courtroom and the foreman announced the not guilty verdicts.
Matthew, who was standing in the dock, stood still as the verdicts were delivered. It was only when he was told by the judge he was discharged Matthew moved. Lyndon Garcia, who lost his two children, wife and mother, in the incident, offered no comment but his brother, Dennis Garcia, was more vocal, chastising the judicial system for what had happened. Matthew, 44, was charged with the murders of Katherine Garcia, 62, Alicia James, 28, Dillon Garcia, nine, and Giselle Garcia, four, on May 5, 2001, at Mundo Nuevo, Talparo. State attorney Jennifer Martin prosecuted, while Osbourne Charles SC, Owen Hinds Jr and Jerome Herrera appeared for Matthew. Lyndon Garcia said on the day in question, he left home around 5.30 am to take his father to the market. Shortly before 10 am, while on the Arima taxi stand, he got a message and rushed home. "When I got there, I saw my wife, Alicia James, lying in front of the house. She was covered with a white sheet. "When I removed the sheet, there were chop wounds to her back. There was blood leading to the garage. She appeared to be dead." he said.
Garcia said he then saw his mother, Katherine, lying on the ground in the garage. He said she had chop wounds to her neck and she to, was dead. Garcia saw his son, a paraplegic, sitting in a wheelchair with his face down. "I saw a stab wound to the left side of his neck. I then saw my daughter, Giselle, lying on her back in the garage, and she appeared to be dead," he added. Garcia said two policemen were present and after speaking to them, he handed over a firearm. Two days later, he went to the Forensic Sciences Centre where he identified the four bodies. On May 11, 2001, he attended the funeral service for the victims at the San Rafael RC Church. Garcia's brother, Dennis, said he went to cut grass some distance away from his parents' home.
About two hours later, when he emerged from the bushes, he saw a crowd near the house. He went and inquired and saw the bodies. All four persons appeared to be dead. Dennis said he knew someone called Harrilal Matthew. When told to look around the court and see if he could identify Matthew, Dennis took a long time before saying: "I don't see anyone like him here today." Under cross-examination, Dennis remembered giving evidence at the preliminary inquiry at the Arima Magistrates' Court but he could not remember signing his deposition. When he was shown his signature on the deposition, Dennis replied: "It does not seem to be my signature. To me, it don't look like my signature. That was ten years ago... you write differently."
Dennis insisted he never signed anything at the Magistrates' Court.
But another witness, Barry De Four, identified Matthew who was sitting in the dock. He said he had known him for 15 years at the time of the killings. Another witness saw Matthew hiding behind a house with a cutlass at the time of the killings. Matthew gave no evidence at his trial.