Justice of Appeal Mark Mohammed.
A retrial was not ordered for a man who won his appeal of his 2021 murder conviction by a judge at a judge-only trial.
Justices of Appeal Mark Mohammed, Maria Wilson and Ronnie Boodoosingh expressed concern about ordering a retrial for Kenyatta King after 15 years and eight months, especially considering the severe backlog of cases in the system because of inundated and clogged trial lists. They also said as an appellate court, they had to be dispassionate and take a panoramic overview of the criminal justice system when deciding if to order retrials based on the quality of the evidence.
The judges acknowledged that each case must be decided individually and while retrials have been ordered in matters with similar or longer periods of delay, in King’s case, the evidence weighed on the side of not ordering a new trial.
It was alleged that King, on April 12, 2008, fatally shot Shulah Mitchell in Caroni, two days after he confronted Mitchell’s brother for allegedly telling people he (King) was involved with a minor.
At his trial, King denied being the aggressor. Instead, he said he acted in self-defence when another man who was with Mitchell had a gun which discharged during a struggle. He said four days earlier, he saw Mitchell and his brother in his yard, selling cocaine to someone. He confronted the brother, and later that morning, the two returned with two other men and began breaking his widows.
He stayed at a friend’s house for a week until things had cooled down before returning home to get some clothes. When he got there, he saw the tyres of his cars were slashed while other widows to his house were broken. While leaving, he was confronted by two men and saw the brothers and the man with his gun at his front gate.
He told the gunman he knew they wanted to kill him for stopping the others from selling drugs in his yard. He tried to grab the gun after he was hit with it and was also stabbed in the back by someone. A gunshot was heard, and he ran to a friend’s house, where he called his other friend to pick him up. Two friends gave evidence at his trial.
King also testified that while in prison, he met the gunman and Mitchell’s brother. One man told him he would have done the same to defend himself while Mitchell’s brother told him they chose his property to sell drugs since King did not want to side with them in a war with two other brothers.
At his appeal, King’s attorneys Wayne Sturge and public defender Shane Patience successfully argued that the trial judge misdirected herself on the issue of self-defence and applied the wrong test in her judgment. They also successfully argued the judge disregarded relevant parts of King’s evidence because it was not “put” to the prosecution’s witnesses. This is when a defendant challenges a prosecution witness with their version of events. Nine grounds of appeal were filed, and three were upheld, leading to the court quashing the murder conviction and setting aside the death sentence.
The State was represented by special prosecutor Wayne Rajbansie.