Appeal Court overturns 2012 D’Urban St murder convictions, orders retrial

Three murder convictions from 2017 were on Monday overturned in a unanimous decision by the Guyana Court of Appeal which found that trial Judge Navindra Singh sought to destroy the case for the defence by seeking to give the omissions and discrepancies as against the case for the prosecution.
The trial of Steffon Campbell, Faisal Moore, and Ray Yokum, who were charged with the May 9, 2012 murder of Glen Xavier, which occurred during a robbery at Cornbread Mini Mart at D’Urban and Lime Streets, Georgetown, ended with guilty verdicts and a prison sentence of 80 years for each of them.
Dissatisfied with the decision of the trial court, the men, through Stanley Moore, SC, and Attorney-at-Law Nigel Hughes filed an appeal against their conviction and sentence in which they contended that among other things, the trial Judge failed to adequately put their defence to the jurors and misdirected them on the accessory concept.
The Appeal Court led by Chancellor of the Judiciary Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards found that majority of the grounds of appeal advanced by the men had merit. In the circumstances, the court held that this is a case that must attract a retrial. The court also overturned the convictions and remitted it to the High Court for a new trial.

According to Justice Cummings-Edwards, the defence of the men were the unsworn statements they gave from the prisoner’s dock. The Appeal Court found that although the trial Judge was duty-bound to go over every detail of the men’s defence to the jury, he failed to do so.
The Chancellor pointed out that the trial Judge only told the jury that it was up to them to believe the men’s story and that if they believed what they said, then they must therefore believe that they did not give the caution statements to the Police, and they would have to return a verdict of not guilty.
According to Justice Cummings-Edwards, the men’s caution statement would have put forward what is termed in law as a cut-throat defence, and in the circumstances, the trial Judge was duty-bound to explain the men’s defences to the jurors.
“The trial Judge just gave a synopsis of their statements. We [the court] believe that this was not sufficient. The trial Judge sought to destroy the defence by seeking to gave the omissions and discrepancies in their defence as against that of the case for the prosecution. While the trial Judge may be able to comment on a defence unfavourably, he is duty-bound to be fair in such comments. Such an approach was not taken in the prosecution’s case and that was unfair…” she noted.

Caution statements
Campbell was first to be arrested by the Police in relation to reports of a robbery. Yokum was arrested the following day and taken to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) Headquarters, where he allegedly told the Police: “I didn’t kill the man; I just link up the wuk. I didn’t know [Moore] would shoot the man.”
Moore when arrested give Police different names and in an oral statement said: “Is not me who shoot the man.” Yokum, on the other hand, gave a written statement detailing his activities on the day in question.
Their lawyers, however, challenged the voluntariness of the statements and alleged that they were given under duress. As such, in their appeal, they argued that Justice Singh erred in law by admitting the caution statements into evidence.
They also argued that the trial Judge failed to give reasons for admitting the caution statement and also failed to gave the jury any warning as to the dangers of convicting solely on a caution statement in the absence of other evidence.
According to the court, the trial Judge would have admitted the caution statements having established that they were admissible after conducting a voir dire. While the trial Judge warned the jury that what is said in the statement by one accused cannot be used against the other accused, the court said he did not further explain how they should consider the evidence in that regard.
The appellate court, therefore, found that this ground of appeal “had some merit.” Concerning the caution statements, the Chancellor said that the trial Judge gave reasons, though not detailed reasons for admitting the statements into evidence.
She pointed out that what was left for the jury to determine was a question of fact, of course, after proper directions, given that the authorship of the statement was established. The court further held that Justice Singh misdirected the jury about the accessory concept, as the directions given in this regard were incomplete and required more explaining for the jury’s benefit.
As a consequence, the Court of Appeal ruled that this is a case that should attract a retrial, the appeal was allowed and the convictions for murder were overturned.
The case was remitted to the High Court for a new trial at the next practicable sitting of the Demerara Assizes. Apart from the Chancellor, Justices of Appeal Dawn Gregory and Rishi Persaud also deliberated on this case.
It was reported that on the day in question, two men went to the Cornbread Mini Mart where one of them pulled out a large sum of cash while purchasing beers. They were sitting on the bridge when gunshots rang out at the location. The man who had a large sum of money was seen holding onto a man, who was wearing a helmet and who attempted to rob him.
In the end, 26-year-old Xavier of Harlem, West Coast Demerara (WCD), was shot to his chest and left arm and later died. His cause of death was given as haemorrhage and shock due to gunshot injuries. After the robbery, the gunmen escaped with an undisclosed sum of cash on two motorcycles.