Bail for Rajee Ali, others deemed a ‘nullity’

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Rajaee Ali, one of the men accused of murdering Dana Seetahal. –

THE nine men awaiting trial for the murder of Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal who were granted bail on the gang charges against them, last Friday, should not have received bail because of an error.

On Wednesday, the magistrate assigned to their matter rescinded her order for bail, saying it was “null and void.”

Magistrate Kerianne Byer scheduled an emergency hearing after it was brought to her attention the group was not properly served with summonses to have them appear in court.

The men were being brought to court by a “court note” following the Court of Appeal ruling in 2020 which reinstated the gang charges and separated them from the murder charges, and they should have been brought to appear in court on summons.

Newsday was told a summons is like a subpoena to a witness so that since the person is not in custody, the question of bail does not arise.

It is only if someone fails to appear in court on the summons and a warrant is issued for their arrest, then bail will apply.

This procedural step of issuing a summons to the nine, Newsday was told, was important. In this case, since summonses were not issued, they were before the court inappropriately so the question of bail could not be addressed so the magistrate’s order on Friday became a “nullity.”

On Wednesday, none of the nine agreed to have service of the summons waived so police will now have to serve fresh summonses to them in prison for their next court appearance on April 22.

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

Byer told the group since last Friday’s hearing, having listened to the proceedings before she took over the case, it was apparent the group had never waived their right to proper service and the State had never properly served them with fresh summonses.

She explained to them since they were supposed to be brought by summons, bail would not have been an issue. She said as a result her orders for bail were now “null and void” so bail should never have been an issue. “You should have been brought to court by summons.”

Byer also said the note on the file said they had been remanded on continuing bond, and since she saw no bail bonds, she came to address the issue. She also said she was not sure why it had not been to the court’s attention previously that the men were not issued with summonses. She also said the court note was inaccurate but was not certain where the “error” arose.

“We are here to rectify the process,” before starting to ask the men if they were waiving their right to proper service. She also apologised for her misunderstanding based on what was on record and said she had wished she had been apprised of the situation before.

She issued fresh summonses for the men to be served on them by the police in the prison.

Appearing for the State on Wednesday was Assistant DPP Tricia Hudlin-Cooper.

Those granted bail were Rajaee 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. Ali’s brother, Ishmael, was not successful in his application at the time.

They all had to surrender their passports and report to the nearest police station in the district where they live every day. None of the bail amounts or conditions applies.

The Appeal Court’s ruling in March 2020, came after it 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 being amended 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.

Ali was represented by attorney Roshan Tota-Maharaj while 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.

The nine had been committed to stand trial for Seetahal’s murder in July 2020.

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