Brothers sentenced to hang for 2010 murder in Churuma forest

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Justice Hayden St Clair-Douglas.

TWO brothers from east Trinidad were on Thursday sentenced to death for the 2010 murder of a Biche farmer.

Brothers John and Victor Flores were convicted by Justice Hayden St Clair-Douglas at a judge-only trial that began in March.

At the end of a two-day exercise in which he went through the evidence presented during the trial, which was mostly held virtually, St Clair-Douglas said he was satisfied the brothers were guilty of the murder of Seecharan Sankar on May 24, 2010, in the Churuma forest.

The judge said he was also satisfied the men attempted to murder Sankar’s brother Doodnath “Anil” Sankar and his cousin Johnny “Rohan” Ramnarine.

In all, the Flores brothers were found guilty of murder, two counts of attempted murder, and possession of a shotgun and ammunition. On the attempted murder and gun and ammunition possession convictions they are expected to return to court for sentencing.

The imposition of the death sentence on the two brothers comes two weeks after the Privy Council affirmed the mandatory sentence for murder in Trinidad and Tobago as being constitutional.

It was the prosecution’s case that the brothers killed Seecharan Sankar and attempted to murder the two others after forcing them to help process their marijuana harvest.

In testimony at the trial, Anil Sankar said he, Seecharan, and Ramnarine left their home at Churuma Village to harvest green figs from Ramnarine’s garden when they were confronted by the Flores brothers who were armed with shotguns.

He testified the brothers instructed them to drop their cutlasses and were told that they (Flores) came to kill Ramnarine to send a message to his (Ramnarine’s) brother who was in prison.

“They said they had some work for we to do before they kill we,” Sankar said.

He said the brothers then forced them to hike through a forested area and three marijuana fields before they arrived at a campsite at the peak of a small mountain.

Sankar testified the brothers forced them to trim the dried marijuana flowers for almost two hours before the older one, who he knew from the village, used Rammarine’s cellphone to make a call.

He said they pleaded with the brothers to spare their lives. Sankar said after John Flores used Ramnarine’s cellphone – which was destroyed after the SIM card was removed – he pointed the gun at Ramnarine, shooting him in the chest. He then turned the gun to Seecharan Sankar, shooting him once in the back. Sankar said Victor Flores shot in his direction but he was only grazed on the side of the head. He said he jumped from a cliff to escape the men and when he got to the bottom, he saw Ramnarine who also jumped after he was shot.

“I looked in front of me and I saw Johnny. I say, ‘I see you get a good shot and they kill Sweetie (Seecharan),’” Sankar said.

Sankar said he assisted Ramnarine in walking as he was bleeding from his mouth and chest and they made their way to a river. The two cousins then followed the river’s path until they made their way back to the village where the police were called by relatives.

He also testified he led his relatives back to the campsite where they found his brother’s body and later that day he took the police there as well. Rohan Ramnarine also testified.

In his verdict, St Clair-Douglas said based on the evidence presented at the trial, he was convinced John Flores was in the Churuma forest despite presenting alibies which he rejected. John Flores claimed he was in Maracas St Joseph to collect money from a friend while Victor claimed he was at Point Radix Road, Mayaro.

Although he faulted the identification parade of Victor Flores as being unfair, the judge said the surviving victims were with their assailants for some three hours in the forest, face-to-face, with normal daytime lighting conditions.

He also rejected assertions by the defence who challenged the witnesses’ dock identification of the men because they were wearing masks.

Since court rules currently prohibit remanded prisoners from appearing in court, in person, the Flores brothers participated in their trial from the virtual court facilities at the Maximum Security Prison.

The judge said although national covid19 regulations contained a mask mandate, the two were asked to remove their masks at the trial for dock identifications and he did not accept the contention that the witnesses were unable to properly identify them because of the face masks.

He also pointed out that Anil Sankar knew John Flores who was his neighbour and had worked with him previously and Victor Flores had been held by police in possession of a shotgun that discharged one of the cartridges found at the forest camp where Seecharan Sankar’s body was found.

Both brothers were arrested in 2014, four years after the killing, and in 2011, were discharged after a preliminary inquiry at the Rio Claro magistrates’ court. In September 2014, the Director of Public Prosecutions obtained a bench warrant for their arrest and the two were re-arrested and indicted for the murder and the other charges.

Of the testimony of the prosecution’s witnesses, led by prosecutors Maria Lyons- Edwards and Taterani Seecharan, the judge said he found their testimony to be reliable.

John Flores was represented by attorney Ramesh Deena while Rekha Ramjit represented Victor Flores.

They return on July 12 for pleas in mitigation for the attempted murder and gun possession convictions.