Permit me to concur with the learned Attorney General, Hon. Anil Nandlall, SC, for advocating that the necessary steps should be taken by the DPP’s Office on behalf of the State, to appeal the acquittal of the three men who were charged with the 2016 murder of the elderly couple Mohamed Munir and his wife Jamilla, of Good Hope, East Bank Essequibo. The trial judge should not have directed the panel to submit formal not-guilty verdicts due to insufficient evidence for Joel Blair, Shamudeen Mohamed, also known as ‘Milo’ and Jason Howard, also known as ‘Smelly.’
The State’s appellate rights have their genesis in a case I presented called the “Body in the Bush” murder case, in 1984, or The State v Mitchell (Alvin), which was later published in the West Indian Law Reports for its importance to our jurisprudence. I had just completed law school, but summoned all my nascent skills in “vigorously prosecuting,” defendant Alvin Mitchell, as the Judges wrote in their decision, against much more experienced counsel-Mr. David Wray and Rex McKay SC.
The defense claimed that the victim, 30-year old waitress Nastawantee Persaud, whose semi-nude, dead body was found in a clump of bushes, fell out of his moving vehicle, and met her death by accident, somehow falling precisely on a sharp object that not only impaled Nastawantee, but caused strangulation marks on her neck and other parts of her body. The evidence established the antithesis of that and demanded deliberations by the jury, for the death of the brutally beaten and raped deceased. In a most perverse decision, Judge Kenneth Barnwell perplexingly upheld farcical “no case” submissions ruling that shockingly and unconscionably acquitted the murder accused Alvin Mitchell.
Right thinking members of society joined me in condemning the injustice and shocking usurpation of the jury’s functions that the directed verdict was unconscionable. As Judge Vieira posited in his decision, “Justice is a two-edged sword, which should work equally for the prosecution as it does for the defense.”
I frantically and forcefully appealed the Judge’s troubling acquittal with colleagues Mr. George Jackman and Mr. Ian Chang, emphasizing the need for appellate review by the DPP in aberrational decisions like this one to the Appellate Judges-Judges Keith Massiah, Frank Vieira and Fung-A-Fatt. This case is also called “the Baldeo case” in surviving legal circles, and I am proud that I fought for justice for a humble waitress from Bartica who was evidently raped, strangled and killed by Alvin Mitchell, and whose partially nude body was dumped in a clump of bushes. The injustice she suffered bothers me to this day.
The Judge’s compadres sued me over my vigorous protests, then withdrew after I held strong to my public declarations that justice was not served in this heinous case, but after public opinion joined in condemning their manipulations, and the Appellate Judges’ strong condemnation of the Barnwellian decision, they withdrew their lawsuit against me. I am equally proud to say I fought the good fight, and was complimented by Guyana’s larger society, not only the legal profession, for my efforts in trying to get justice for Nastawantee Persaud.
The system let her down then, excruciatingly, because the law was not in place. However, this recently passed legislation has been a long time coming, since this 1984 case. Martin Luther King, Jr., reminds us that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” This was the manifestation of that judicial concept, decades after. I thank AG Nandlall for his initiative in causing the necessary changes to the Court of Appeal Act to be made, and on his present advocacy to test the law in the Munir case, another compelling case.
HON. ALBERT BALDEO, DISTRICT LEADER, LITTLE GUYANA (NY, USA)
FORMER SENIOR/SPECIAL PROSECUTOR, STATE COUNSEL, POLICE LEGAL ADVISOR, MAGISTRATE (GUYANA)