Murder accused waiting 17 years for trial to start

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

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A MAN who has been languishing in a remand yard for the past 17 years, while awaiting his trial on charges of kidnapping and murder is saying he will not plead guilty for crimes he did not commit, “just so I can go home.”

Former soldier Cpl Ricardo Stevenson, in a letter – a copy of which was sent to Newsday – is pleading with the authorities to have his trial started so he can have his day in court.

Stevenson was charged with the kidnapping and murder of US war veteran Balram “Balo” Maharaj as well as the kidnapping and murder of real estate businessman Gerard Gopaul.

Both charges were laid against him in 2006.

Stevenson, Kenneth Pierre, Paul Boodoo, Clifford Sorias, Marvin Critchlow, Kendall Joseph, Sherwyn Crystom and Kendell Davis were all charged with kidnapping and murdering Gopaul.

Gopaul, 52, was abducted from the Diamond Recreation Club, Diamond Village, and his body was found 11 days later at Trantrill Road, St Augustine, wrapped in green plastic.

Ex-soldier Jason Percival, who was originally charged with the others, has turned state’s witness. This trial is still to be started.

Stevenson, Anderson Straker, Kevin “Shaka” Nixon, Kenneth Pierre, his brother Wayne “Ninja” Pierre, Christopher Sealy and Christopher “Boyie” Bourne, were charged with kidnapping and murdering Maharaj.

DPP Roger Gaspard, SC, discontinued murder proceedings against Kenneth Pierre in 2017 as he was the last of the seven men committed to stand trial locally for Maharaj’s murder.

All but Stevenson and Kenneth Pierre were extradited to the US to stand trial for Maharaj’s kidnapping and murder. Maharaj was a US citizen.

The indictment against Stevenson (for the murder of Maharaj) was discontinued in the Port of Spain High Court in 2014, before Justice Maria Wilson.

Sentenced in the US for Maharaj’s kidnapping and death, according to a Newsday report dated Wednesday November 1, 2017, were: Percival, who was sentenced to 13 years; Russel Joseph, 11 years; and Winston Gittens, ten years.

Leon Nurse, a former defence force soldier, was sentenced to ten years and six months. They all pleaded guilty after entering a plea bargain with the US in exchange for their testimonies.

In his letter, the now 57-year-old former regiment officer said he is awaiting a bail hearing after spending 17 years on remand. Murder is now a bailable offence.

“I am still awaiting a trial to clear my name. I will not plead guilty for something I didn’t do, just so that I can go home.”

Between 2009 and 2022, Stevenson said he faced ten judges with his matter not going to trial for various reasons including the pandemic.

He said he has written letters to the President, Prime Minister, Attorney General, Chief Justice, the National Security Minister and the Director of Public Prosecutions “pleading for assistance to look into my matter.”