For many years some extremely horrible and highly questionable judgements has been handed down by Guyana’s Judicial System. Pre-meditated killings have been transformed into the watered down version termed ‘manslaughter. Coupled with flimsy police investigative procedures and seeming lackluster efforts by prosecutors, or more precisely, the Director of Public Prosecutions, many victims still cry out for a lack of true justice. In the face of overwhelming evidence, be it forensic, circumstantial, eye witness etc. a huge preponderance of cases are mitigated, resulting in unjustifiable, meagre sentences.
Take for example the sentence handed down Justice Simone Morris Ramlall four months ago when the Kurt Erskine the killer left his place of residence on July 05, 2015, armed himself with a gun and travelled miles and shot Ganesh Ramlall (Boyo) to death at La Jalousie, West Coast Demerara. He pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter and received 15 years in a most bizarre decision by the judge. The Citi-Mall owner was shot eight times! Faizal Bacchus, the lookout/ informer was freed (sentenced to time served) after pleading to the lesser count of manslaughter when this was a clear cut case of conspiracy to premeditated murder! Lenox Roberts, the third person charged in the murder, received a similar slap on the wrist in what is a clear case of a conspiracy to commit murder.
In legal terms these men possessed a guilty mind, the so-called Mens Rea which refers to criminal intent, therefore sentencing should be in accordance with this factor. Thus, a crime committed purposefully and knowingly should carry a more severe punishment than if the offender acted recklessly, or negligently.
There are abundant cases of haphazard sentencing, however, the following examples will suffice. In February 2020, Sunildate Balack admitted that between September 6, 2016 and March 31, 2017 at Mibicuri North, Black Bush Polder, he killed his wife Lilwantie Balack, 39, of the same address after he had reported that she had left the country (the woman’s remains were found buried behind the couple’s home). In what has become horribly common-place, he pleaded to the lesser account of manslaughter and was sentenced to 21 years by Justice Simone Morris-Ramlall… In sentencing the man Justice Morris-Ramlall said that in taking consideration of all the circumstances she found that a sentence of 35 years was appropriate. However, she said on account of his guilty plea, 11 years will be deducted and another 3 years were discounted on account of the time the convict spent on remand.
In January last year, Michael Anthony Persaud pleaded guilty to killing his 19-year-old wife at Lot 8 North Sophia in 2011 and –yes you guessed correctly — was sentenced to 15 years by Justice Sandil Kissoon after he pleaded guilty to the lesser count of manslaughter.. Maduri Padumdeo nude body was discovered in the bedroom with a wire wrapped around her neck as Persaud lay beside her. In November 2014, Persaud was sentenced to 83 years in prison for the murder after he was found guilty by a 12-member jury. He then appealed the conviction and sentence arguing that the trial judge committed a number of errors which resulted in a miscarriage of justice and that the sentence imposed was too harsh. The conviction was then overturned and a new trial was ordered.
Here we go again: In 2018, Justice Brassington Reynolds sentenced a Rose Hall, Corentyne man, Desmond Gordon, to ten years in prison after he pleaded guilty the lesser count of manslaughter in the chopping and killing of his common law wife Bhagmattie Etwaroo, 50 in May, 2016. Given the weight of evidence in these trials, one can conclude that all involved simply wanted a quick fix and be done not giving due consideration to the weight of the evidence.
The case of the murder of Abdool Ameer Subrati, 44, a driver with the Demerara Harbour Bridge and father of two who was fatally shot by bandits in 2016 when they stormed a house at Herstelling, East Bank Demerara puts the Judiciary on trial. Devon Chacon,22, murdered Subrati during the furtherance of a robbery. Police had said that two men, including a tenant at the Herstelling property were picked out in who were involved in the attack. The family of the dead man told this newspaper that he was shot while the men were firing wildly during the robbery. Justice Navindra Singh sentenced Chacon to some 5 years in 2021 in a clear case of premeditated murder to time served !
In 2013, an Essequibo resident Suresh Persaud, beat his wife Nandranie Narine,40, to death, was sentenced to 14 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to manslaughter before Justice Franklyn Holder. He had pleaded not guilty to the charge of murder but changed his plea to guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter after Justice Holder admitted his statement to police into evidence. In October 2010, Persaud beat the deceased with a wood and a grater, after which he inserted a bottle into her vagina. Justice Holder had told the man that he was an evil and wicked man who committed a heinous crime. He then sentenced him to 22 years in prison, but deducted eight years for the time he had been incarcerated.
One of the most macabre decisions was evidenced in the Delon ‘Fatboy’ Reynolds trial for the murder of George Bacchus in 2004. Bacchus had implicated senior gov’t officials and businessmen in murders, after he started to talk publicly about this country’s criminal underworld. Reynolds gave the police a statement to the effect that a woman offered him $200,000 to kill George Bacchus. He never denied that he deliberately and premeditatedly killed Bacchus but was convicted for manslaughter!
As far back as 1979 Bilal Ato of the shady House of Israel following stabbed Catholic Standard photographer Father Darke with a bayonet, as he was photographing a picketing exercise on Brickdam. After claiming he ‘accidentally’ stabbed Father Darke he received a mere 5 years for manslaughter.
On another front, a highly placed GDF officer and the son of a gov’t minister were charged for causing death by dangerous driving. In both cases the drivers were intoxicated in what is a clear case of the charge of vehicular manslaughter. Today, both men are still driving
This current state of affairs needs urgent addressing and President Ali, the Chief Justice, Chancellor of the Judiciary, Director of Public Prosecutions and the Bar Association must get their house in order as manslaughter convictions are a poor substitute for murder.
By Leyland Chitlall Roopnaraine