Dole Chadee’s brother’s killers to be freed soon

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Justice Geoffrey Henderson –

NINE men convicted of the brutal beheading of Thackoor Boodram, brother of drug kingpin Dole Chadee, in 2017, could see freedom soon, as they have been re-sentenced by a High Court judge.

On March 1, the nine appeared before Justice Geoffrey Henderson, and were given sentences ranging from 32-30 years for their roles in Boodram’s “grisly murder,” as described by the judge. Henderson pointed out that from the facts of the case, none of the nine killed Boodram, but were liable for the actions of their co-accused.

Boodram, a pig farmer, was kidnapped on December 20, 1997. His abductors demanded a ransom, but ten days later his head was found in a whisky box at the Caroni Cremation Site.

The nine – Michael “Rat” Maharaj, Samuel Maharaj, Damien “Tommy” Ramiah, Bobby Ramiah, Seenath “Farmer” Ramiah, Daniel “Fella” Gopaul, Richard Huggins, Leslie Huggins, and Mark “Bico” Jaikaran – returned to the High Court and appeared via a video link from the various prison locations where they were incarcerated.

They were each credited for the time they spent in custody and given a one-third remission for breaches of their constitutional rights because of the failure of the prison authorities to hold four-year reviews.

According to prison rules, authorities must do regular four-yearly reviews on prisoners serving life sentences to consider the possibility of their release.

All nine were arrested in March 1998, spent four and a half years on death row and 17 and a half as convicted prisoners.

The judge left the calculation of their sentences, which is to begin from the date of their convictions on August 7, 2022, to the prison authorities.

However, many of the men’s lawyers said based on their calculations, the men are likely “to walk” soon, and if not immediately, “within days.” They now intend to write to the prison authorities to have the remission applied so their clients can be released.

In February 2023, the Privy Council allowed the men’s appeals against their life sentences and quashed them. They had initially been sentenced to death by hanging, but that sentence was later commuted to life in prison.

The London court further ordered that their resentencing should take place “expeditiously,” and advised the High Court to consider each man’s case individually, taking into account the full range of sentences available.

In October 2021, the Privy Council dismissed the men’s appeal of their conviction. They had petitioned the Court of Appeal to reopen their case because of “new evidence” that emerged after they were found guilty of murdering Boodram.

That evidence was based on an alleged admission by the State’s star witness, Junior Grandison, who swore in a statutory declaration in 2011 that he had fabricated evidence against the group.

Grandison’s evidence did not implicate a tenth man, Junior “Heads” Phillips, who was also convicted on the basis of evidence from another witness.

The London-based court agreed that the Court of Appeal carried out a proper and robust analysis of the appeal before dismissing it in 2018.

Henderson admitted Boodram’s murder had shocked and traumatised society. However, in arriving at an appropriate sentence, he said he did not believe that one of life was appropriate. He reminded that some people “make dreadful mistakes” which admittedly caused significant damage to society, but once prisoners can be rehabilitated, they must be allowed to return to society.

The various reports submitted for the men by the prison authorities showed that they were each capable of rehabilitation, the judge said.

“When there is such evidence or information to suggest that this goal is achievable, a court must be slow to incarcerate a prisoner for the rest of his natural life.”

He also granted them declarations that their rights were breached by the prison’s failure to periodically review their life sentences. He said the sentences he imposed were sufficient retribution so that society could get its “pound of flesh.”

The kidnapping and murder

The plan to kidnap Boodram started in July 1997, and was “suggested” by Damian Ramiah, the facts outlined in the ruling said.

A meeting was held at Ramiah’s home three days earlier where the plan was again discussed. It said Maharaj said whether they received money or not, they would kill Boodram and send his head to his brother. Bobby Ramiah presented a cutlass and Maharaj said it would be used to decapitate the victim.

On December 20, 1997, a final meeting was held at Ramiah’s home. They were all present and the plan to kidnap Boodram was put into motion. All the men, including Grandison, left in different cars.

Bobby Ramiah played no further role in the kidnapping.

Boodram was bundled into a car, taken to a track and his hands and feet bound. A ransom demand for $5 million was made and with no money forthcoming, in the early hours of December 30, 1997, he was executed.

The State’s case relied heavily on Grandison’s evidence and that of Haile Selassie Amoroso.

Amoroso witnessed the killing and testified that Boodram was taken deep into the forest in Sangre Grande and made to sit in a bamboo patch. Phillip shot him three times at close range. A plan was made to sever Boodram’s head and burn his body. Amoroso refused to participate.

At about 10.30 pm, on December 30, 1997, the police discovered Boodram’s head in a whisky box on a bench at the Caroni cremation site.

An autopsy said Boodram died from the three gunshot wounds to the head and not the decapitation.

Before the end of March 1998, the men were all arrested. Grandison said while in prison, Michael Maharaj spoke of the decapitation.

“After two chops, the head flew off.”

In October 1999, Amoroso took the police to the bamboo patch. Pieces of burnt tyres, jewellery and charred bones were found.

Phillip was arrested on November 4, 1999, and four days later he took police back to Sangre Grande, where he pointed out where Boodram was kept and killed.

“The kidnapping and murder were planned…meticulously orchestrated,” Henderson said. “There was a gratuitous display of violence post-mortem in this case, as the deceased’s severed head was left on display to be found.”

In addressing the men, Henderson reminded them that bad decisions did cost them their lives, since they lost out on births, marriages, fetes and spending time with their families.

The nine were represented by Rajiv Persad, SC, Vanita Ramroop, Ajesh Sumessar and Jade Martinez, Keith Scotland, Asha Watkins-Montserin, Keisha Kydd Hannibal, Laurina Ramkaran, Daniel Khan, Harrynarine Singh, Kelston Pope, Gabriel Hernandez, Peter Carter, Jagdeo Singh and Keston Lewis.