Bail for Rajaee Ali, others on gang charges

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Rajaee Ali

NINE men awaiting trial for the murder of Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal have been granted bail on the gang charges against them in the magistrates’ court.

On Friday, Magistrate Kerianne Byer granted bail to alleged gang leader Rajaee Ali and eight of his other alleged gang members when they appeared at a virtual trial.

Those granted bail were Ali, in the sum of $500, 000; Devaughn Cummings, in the sum of $300,000; Ricardo Stewart in the sum of $350,000; Earn Richards in the sum of $300,000; Leston Gonzales in the sum of $500,000, Gareth Wiseman in the sum of $500,000; Hamid Ali in the sum of $300,000; Kevin Parkinson in the sum of $500,000 and Roget Boucher in the sum of $350,000.

They all have to surrender their passports and report to the nearest police station in the district where they live everyday.

The charges against the group were reinstated following a Court of Appeal decision in 2020 after the court set aside a magistrate’s order to dismiss the gang charges. The Appeal Court had been asked to determine if a blunder by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in laying the gang charges resulted in their nullity.

The State had applied to have the charges amended but this was denied by then senior magistrate Indrani Cedeno in May 2016, after the DPP’s office admitted laying the charges indictably (to be tried by judge and jury, or judge alone after a preliminary inquiry) as opposed to summarily (heard and determined by a magistrate) for first offenders, as prescribed by the Anti-Gang Act.

At the time, it was argued that the DPP’s Office could not re-lay the charges because the six-month window to do so had expired.

In their decision, the appellate court judges said the charges were capable of amendment and were not affected by the six-month limitation period set by statute.

Saying a substantial error had been committed, the Appeal Court held that it was capable of correction and the matter was sent back to a new magistrate and separated from the murder charges the group faced.

On Friday, only Ali’s other brother, Ishmael, was denied bail as the court was unsure of his updated criminal record.

At the virtual hearing, the State was not represented.

Rajaee Ali’s attorney Roshan Tota-Maharaj argued his client was prevented from having a bail application made when he was charged back in 2015.

He said six-and-a-half years later, he was now able to do so, raising Ali’s close ties to the community and his connection and service to the Al Islamia masjid, in Carapo, of which his father is the Imam and founder.

Tota-Maharaj submitted Ali constantly engaged in religious and life skill-building activities with the youth in the area, and notwithstanding his pending matters, he had a right to apply for bail.

The attorney pointed to the recent judgment of the Court of Appeal which now allows anyone on a murder charge to apply for bail and which says it was for the courts to consider bail applications.

Tota-Maharaj said Ali enjoyed the presumption of innocence and was only guilty of having an illegal electricity connection which he has appealed.

The granting of bail to the group does not mean they will automatically be released from prison as they were committed to stand trial for Seetahal’s murder in July 2020 and have yet to apply for bail on those charges given the recent Appeal Court decision.

Attorneys for the other men also advanced bail applications for their clients.

Attorney Shenice Edwards represents Earl Richards and Leston Gonzales; attorneys Mario Merritt and Karunaa Bisramsingh represent Devaughn Cummings; attorney Kirby Joseph represents Roget Boucher and Ricardo Stewart; attorney Keresse Khan represents Hamid Ali and Kevin Parkinson and Kashief Gibson represents Ishmael Ali.

The group was charged on July 25, 2015, with being members of a gang during the period March 14, 2014-July 24, 2015.

Also charged was Ali’s wife but those charges against her were discontinued and another man turned State witness against the men in the murder inquiry.

Two others, who were allowed to walk free in 2016 when Cedeno said the amendment sought by the State could not be permitted, were also facing gang charges. They had not been charged with Seetahal’s murder. One of them died in July 2018, while the other is yet to be arrested as he cannot be found.

Seetahal was shot dead behind the wheel of her SUV while driving along Hamilton Holder Street in Woodbrook on May 4, 2014.