Carenage man freed of escaping custody, forgery

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Port of Spain Magistrates’ Court
Photo: Sureash Cholai

After retiring for less than half an hour, a Port of Spain jury returned on March 1 with not-guilty verdicts for a Carenage man accused of escaping lawful custody after police mistook him for another prisoner who was to be released on bail.

Josiah Marcelle was before Justice Mauricia Joseph and nine jurors on two charges of forgery and escaping lawful custody on October 31, 2012.

It was alleged he forged bail bond documents in the name of another prisoner at the Port of Spain Magistrates Court and was hence released on bail.

Marcelle was at the court for a court appearance, and it was the State’s case that at about 2.15 pm, two officers stationed at the courthouse cells were told the bail bond documents for Lawrence Paul were ready.

They called out Paul’s name, but Marcelle allegedly responded. He was taken out of the cell and the officers testified that he was taken to the office of the clerk of the peace after answering all relevant questions, and asked to sign the bail bond. He was then allowed to leave.

Sometime later, the State contended, the officers realised they had allowed Marcelle to leave, not Paul, although the former was accounted for on their records, but not physically present.

When they realised the mistake, the courthouse and adjoining streets were searched, but Marcelle could not be found.

Six weeks later, he was recaptured and charged.

At the trial, which began on February 1, the testimony of the clerk, who died in January, was tendered into evidence and another clerk also gave evidence on the procedure involving signing bail bonds.

She said after a prisoner signs a bond, he or she is sent back to the cells until the documents are processed and they are ready for release.

She admitted identification was important and should be checked, but said she had never seen a prisoner produce a form of identification.

In their testimony, the officers assigned to the cellblock of the courthouse were adamant that Marcelle had responded and presented himself as Lawrence Paul.

Also testifying was the police officer who investigated both officers, and Marcelle, who admitted he did not try to get information about Paul, did not try to retrieve the CCTV footage from the magistrates’ court, and did not compare signatures to determine the bail bond documents were a forgery.

Marcelle’s defence was that he was allowed to go to the toilet and when he came out, he was handcuffed and taken to the clerk’s office with three or four other prisoners, then released.

Marcelle’s attorney Roshan Tota-Maharaj contended it was negligence, hastiness and absent-mindedness that led the two officers to release the wrong prisoner.

He also maintained the officers had a motive to lie and fabricate their story, since they, too, were being investigated, and it was more likely that Lawrence Paul was allowed to sign his bail bond, sent back to the cells and, when the time came to release the prisoners whose bail documents had been approved, the two officers released Marcelle thinking he was Paul.

He further contended when the error was discovered, the officers concocted a story to avoid being implicated in wrongdoing.

The nine jurors deliberated for less than half an hour before returning not-guilty verdicts on the two counts.

The State was represented by Chenelle Moe, Taireke Davis, and Destinee Gray.