Two men convicted of brutally murdering six-year-old Sean Luke, 15 years ago, can still possibly be released from prison eventually.
After convicting Akeel Mitchell and Richard Chatoo of the heinous crime at the end of their virtual judge-alone trial yesterday, High Court Judge Lisa Ramsumair-Hinds sought to pre-empt possible calls from the members of the public for the duo to face the mandatory death penalty for murder.
Justice Ramsumair-Hinds noted that as Mitchell and Chatoo were minors at the time of Luke’s murder, they cannot face the death penalty that is handed down to adult offenders.
“The law is clear. Stop clamouring for it,” Justice Ramsumair-Hinds said.
Mitchell and Chatoo will be held in prison at the court’s pleasure and will have their sentences reviewed periodically after serving a mandatory minimum sentence, which is expected to be set after submissions from their attorneys and prosecutors are presented during a hearing carded for August 23.
The time they spent on remand before being convicted will also go towards their sentence. In the event that a judge, presiding over their future sentence reviews, is satisfied that they have been rehabilitated and are fit to return to society, they may be released.
In her judgement, which took over three hours to be delivered orally and was witnessed by over 1,500 citizens, who made use of a live stream provided by the Judiciary, Ramsuamir-Hinds said she was satisfied that circumstantial evidence in the case proved that the duo had committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.
“All the evidence leads to one inescapable conclusion,” Ramsumair-Hinds said, before delivering her individual verdicts for Mitchell and Chatoo.
Luke, of Henry Street, Orange Valley Road in Couva, went missing on the evening of March 26, 2006 and his decomposing body was found two days later. An autopsy revealed that he died from internal injuries and bleeding arising out of being sodomised with sugarcane stalk.
Chatoo, who was 16 years old at the time, and 13-year-old Mitchell, who is the stepson of Chatoo’s brother, were charged with the crime.
Weighing the evidence
During the trial, State prosecutors led the evidence of teenagers Avinash Baboolal and Arvis Pradeep, who claimed that Chatoo had invited Luke to accompany them on a fishing expedition. Both Baboolal and Pradeep claimed that they saw Luke, Chatoo and Mitchell enter an abandoned sugarcane field, where Luke’s body was eventually found, with only Chatoo and Mitchell emerging. However, while Baboolal claimed that they entered the field on their way to the river, Pradeep claimed the diversion came when they were returning. Both claimed that they heard a strange noise emanating from the area but neither went in to investigate.
In her decision, Justice Ramsumair-Hinds said she believed Baboolal but not Pradeep, as his (Pradeep) evidence was riddled with inconsistencies and bizarre statements.
“Red flags were at full mast when he (Pradeep) begun his evidence,” Justice Ramsumair-Hinds said.
In her judgement, Ramsumair-Hinds said she considered and disregarded a video-recorded confession statement, in which Chatoo implicated himself and Mitchell.
In the recording, Chatoo claimed that Mitchell, who was spending time at his home, requested that he (Mitchell) have sex with him. According to Chatoo, after he refused, he reluctantly agreed to Mitchell’s request to introduce him to Luke, who was his (Chatoo) neighbour. Chatoo claimed that he merely held Luke’s hands and covered his mouth as Mitchell raped him and sodomised him with the sugarcane stalk.
However, Chatoo elected to testify in his defence during the trial and claimed that he fabricated the confession, as he was threatened and coerced by homicide detectives. Chatoo denied any wrongdoing and claimed that Mitchell did not accompany the group on the fishing trip. He also sought to suggest that Baboolal may have been the perpetrator.
Ramsumair-Hinds noted that Chatoo’s initial confession was not reliable, as he sought to downplay his involvement. She rejected his subsequent claims of police misconduct, as she ruled that the homicide detectives in the case had provided clear and cogent evidence. Ramsumair-Hinds also repeatedly rejected allegations from the duo and their attorneys that Baboolal was involved.
“I remain sure on the evidence that Avinash Baboolal was not involved,” she said, as she noted she did not think Chatoo was being a truthful witness in the trial.
Justice Ramsumair-Hinds also pointed to the DNA evidence collected in the case, which showed that Mitchell’s semen was found on Luke’s discarded underwear. A partial DNA profile, not linked to Chatoo, was found on the sugarcane stalk and on anal swabs taken during Luke’s autopsy.
While Justice Ramsumair-Hinds said she was satisfied with the evidence of the State’s DNA expert Dr Maurice Aboud, she expressed concern over the fact that evidence collected during the investigation was only sent of DNA testing at Aboud’s private lab at the start of the case.
She noted that DNA testing was possible at the Forensic Science Centre in St James until 2018, when the centre’s equipment was not operational due to a lack of calibration.
“I find that unacceptable,” Justice Ramsumair-Hinds said, as she noted that some samples collected had deteriorated over the lengthy period.
As a secondary issue in the case, Justice Ramsumair-Hinds had to consider whether a legal principle over the mental capacity of a child under 14 to have criminal intent applied to Mitchell. She said it was rebutted, as Mitchell was weeks short of his 14th birthday and based on the evidence, was aware that his actions were wrong as he sought to give himself a false alibi by waiting at Luke’s home and speaking to his mother before the other children returned.
“He (Mitchell) pushed the cane stalk until there was nowhere else to go,” she said.
Mitchell was represented by Mario Merritt, Randall Raphael and Kirby Joseph, while Evans Welch, Kelston Pope and Gabriel Hernandez represented Chatoo. Sabrina Dougdeen-Jaglal, Anju Bhola and Sophia Sandy-Smith prosecuted the case.