2014 Skull City murder: Woman asks court to overturn her 40-year sentence

A 40-year-old woman has moved to the Court of Appeal of Guyana to quash her conviction and 40-year jail sentence for the 2014 murder of her uncle, Sunil Ramsundar which occurred on Boxing Day 2014 at Skull City, Patentia, West Bank Demerara (WBD).

Vishwantie Ragnauth and her now dead husband Nyron Thakurdyal being escorted to the lock-ups by Police shortly after they were found guilty of the capital offence (File photo)

Vishawantie Ragnauth and her husband, Nyron Thakurdyal were both found guilty in June 2018 by a jury of murdering Ramsundar, 39. They were each sentenced to 40 years’ imprisonment by Demerara High Court Judge Sandil Kissoon. Shortly after, the couple filed an appeal against their conviction and sentence. When the case recently came up for hearing, the appellate court was informed that Thakurdyal, a father of six, has passed away.
Nevertheless, the prosecution is going ahead with its case against Ragnauth who is being represented by Attorneys-at-Law Nigel Hughes and Narissa Leander. The matter was heard by a three-Judge bench led by Chancellor of the Judiciary (ag) Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards and Justices of Appeal Dawn Gregory-Barnes and Rishi Persaud.

Miscarriage of justice
The lawyers are contending that the trial Judge’s failure to adequately put their client’s defence to the jury is sufficient reason for the court to overturn her conviction and sentence. Given what transpired on that fatal day, Leander argued that the defence of provocation was available.

Dead: Sunil Ramsundar

She said, “There was sufficient evidence on which the trial Judge ought to have put the defence of provocation to the jury. In those circumstances, provocation did arise. The trial Judge ought to have directed the jury on how to treat that bit of evidence given a finding that [Ragnauth] was reasonably provoked. The trial Judge failed to give the jury any directions on that issue. It is our respectful submission that the failure to give those directions resulted in a miscarriage of justice.”
In relation to the defence of accident, counsel argued that Justice Kissoon failed to direct the jury on how to treat this defence. To make her point, she said that her client is maintaining that Thakurdyal came about his injuries as a result of falling onto a fence. Leander reminded that during the couple’s trial, a pathologist testified that the fatal injury the now dead man received to his neck could have been caused if he had fallen onto a fence with an object protruding.
In light of the doctor’s opinion, Leander submitted that the trial Judge failed to analyse this piece of evidence in his summation. She further said that Justice Kissoon did not direct the jury that it was not for the defence to establish that the injury was accidentally sustained but rather for the prosecution to negate that defence. According to Leander, an eyewitness testified to seeing Ragnauth and her husband cuffing away at Thakurdyal. She, however, pointed out that the witness did not testify to seeing the couple armed with a knife or any other weapon.
“Based on the injuries in the post-mortem report, it is our contention that those injuries are not consistent with what the eyewitness said… “If she [the eyewitness] saw all of these cuffing motions and the State is contending that a knife was used, there would have been more than one stab wound based on the eyewitness’s testimony,” Leander submitted.

Very dangerous
For her part, the Chancellor asked Backer if it would not have been prudent for Justice Kissoon to put the defence of self-defence to the jury irrespective of who started the fight assuming that a situation arose whereby Ragnauth and her husband feared that there was a need to defend themselves and at that point, they would not have stopped to measure the extent of the attack.
Prosecutor Backer replied, “If there was evidence capable of supporting that these people may have been acting in self-defence then that would be the case. But the prosecution is saying that based on the evidence the circumstances are that [Ragnauth] approached [Thakurdyal] and pushed him, she was the one who would have taken things to that physical level.”
Although the evidence points to him pushing her back and holding onto her arms, she said there is no other evidence to suggest that he did any other thing to her. “There is no evidence that he did anything else other than quarrel. On the evidence, there is nothing to suggest that these people felt that they needed to defend themselves to the extent of stabbing somebody in their neck.” Given these circumstances, Backer insisted that their actions were not “necessary”.
According to the State counsel, the defence of provocation was not available to Ragnauth. She added, “If anybody was provoked, it would have been the deceased; that’s how the prosecution sees the evidence.” As such, she argued that there was no reason for this to be put to the jury.
“It would be very dangerous for a trial Judge to go around giving a jury options… there is provocation, there is manslaughter, there is self-defence, if they do not legitimately arise on the evidence. We must consider at all time fairness to both sides. And to put something in the jury’s mind that is not warranted by the evidence, the prosecution believes that that would not be safe or wise for the trial Judge to do…,” said Prosecutor Backer. The court has reserved its decision.

The facts of the matter stated that Ramsundar was killed after he attempted to settle a dispute between his sister, his niece, and his niece’s reputed husband. Around 22:00h on that fateful night, Ramsundar’s sister was being assaulted by her daughter – Ragnauth – and her partner, Thakurdyal. At that time, the now-deceased man asked his sister why she was crying, and upon learning about the assault, the man approached his niece for an explanation.
However, this quickly turned into a heated argument, during which Ramsundar was stabbed about his body. Thakurdyal held down the man while his wife stabbed him. Ramsundar collapsed on the spot and was pronounced dead on arrival at the West Demerara Regional Hospital. After the duo stabbed the man, they ran away and flagged down a passing car.
That vehicle happened to be that of an off-duty policeman who reportedly heard Thakurdyal telling someone via his cell phone that he just “jook up” someone. The cop then drove them to the Wales Police Station where they were subsequently arrested. At the time of his arrest, the late Thakurdyal was reportedly found with a knife in his possession.
Meanwhile, the pathologist in his testimony gave Ramsundar’s cause of death as shock and haemorrhage; and a stab wound to the neck. The pathologist had told the jury that there were also injuries to his right forearm, right chest, left part of the neck, and jaw, noting that a puncture to an artery caused excessive blood loss.
Probation reports presented to the court back in 2018 revealed that Thakurdyal had migrated with his family to the United States in 1985 but was deported on a narcotics possession charge in 2003. He then lived for nine years in the Bahamas where he did construction work.
Ragnauth, whose past was described as “abusive”, is a mother of three. It was revealed that she was verbally and physically abusive to her partners and during her second relationship, her husband whom she married according to Hindu rites, fled the home due to her abusive nature. (G1)