[UPDATED] Jury: Six cops not guilty of Moruga triple-murder

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

FREE MEN: At centre, Cpl Khemraj Sahadeo, is flanked by his colleagues, from left, PCs Antonio Ramadhin, Saffraz Juman, Roger Nicholas, Sgt Glenn Singh, and PC Renaldo Reviero, as he speaks to the media at the Hall of Justice, Port of Spain, after they were freed of the murder of three Moruga friends in 2011. – Photo by Roger Jacob

EIGHTEEN not guilty verdicts were on Friday returned in favour of six police officers acquitting them of the murders of three Moruga friends in 2011.

There was a hushed silence in the courtroom at the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain as the foreman of the 12-member jury panel returned the 18 verdicts.

Sgt Khemraj Sahadeo and PCs Renaldo Reviero, Glenn Singh, Roger Nicholas, Safraz Juman, and Antonio Ramadhin each bowed their heads when their names were called and there were audible sighs of relief.

“The jury has found you not guilty. You are free to go,” they were told by the judge immediately after the verdicts.

Roger Nicholas, one of the six police officers acquitted of 2011 Moruga triple-murder charges, embraces his wife on the steps of the Hall of Justice, Knox Street, Port of Spain on Friday. – Photo by Roger Jacob

The jury’s verdicts – one for each count of the murder of friends Abigail Johnson, 20, of St Mary’s Village, Moruga, Alana Duncan, 27, of Duncan Village, San Fernando, and construction worker Kerron “Fingers” Eccles, 29, also of St Mary’s Village, on July 22. 2011 – came after four days of directions by Justice Carla Brown-Antoine. She began her summation on Tuesday.

An hour after she ended on Friday, the jurors returned with their verdicts..

Speaking on behalf of his colleagues who stood behind him on the steps of the Hall of Justice, Sahadeo said the past 12 years had been a trying time.

As he choked up, he said, “I just want to give God thanks and praise for this victory. It was a trying time. Twelve years, 4,409 days without my family…I hope better decisions are made so this would not happen in the future to police officers while on duty.”

He also admitted a return to the police service would not be immediate.

“The pieces that have fallen were plenty and to pick them back up will take some time.”

Lead defence attorney, Israel Khan, SC, was more vocal. He said the verdict was a victory for all “decent and law-abiding” police officers.

The successful defence team of Ulric Skerritt, Arissa Maharaj and Israel Khan, SC, at the Hall of Justice, Port of Spain, on Friday. – Photo by Roger Jacob

Acknowledging that there were “bad eggs” in the service, he said he was disturbed that his clients had spent more than a decade incarcerated before they could see freedom.

“A travesty of justice,” was how he described it.

“All six were acting in the lawful execution of their duties when three citizens were unfortunately killed.”

He, too, said there should be a system for speedy trials for police officers accused of crimes in the execution of their duties so that “those found guilty will receive appropriate punishment and those found not guilty will resume their roles as protectors of society.”

Khan said TT could not demand that police “hunt down and bring criminals before the courts” while lying witnesses come forward and they (the police) are charged and incarcerated for more than a decade before receiving a trial.

“This is a scandalous state of affairs and it brings the criminal justice system into disrepute.”

Khan, who is also president of the Criminal Bar Association, also said Friday’s verdicts were a “victory for trial by judge and jury.”

Khan is a strong advocate for jury trials.

Jury decision in under an 1 hour

There was a heavier-than-usual police presence both inside and outside the courthouse on Friday. Plainclothes police officers mixed with their Court and Process colleagues in the courtroom, occupying the few seats available.

Minutes before the jury retired at 2.40 pm, six court marshals took their oaths to protect the jurors. When word returned at 3.21 pm, that the jury was ready, more police officers and marshalls flooded the courtroom, guarding the main door and standing immediately behind the prisoners’ docks where the six officers sat.

The judge then warned everyone in the courtroom she wanted silence.

“This is a court of law. I want no reaction to the verdict. Everyone must be quiet…I will have you removed from the courtroom. No reaction whatsoever. Leave now if you do not think you can not react.”

PC Renaldo Reviero, centre, one of six police officers acquitted of 2011 Moruga triple-murder charge, with well-wishers on the steps of the Hall of Justice, Knox Street, Port of Spain, on Friday. – Photo by Roger Jacob

Wives, sisters, brothers, mothers and fathers of the officers choked back tears of relief as they held on to each other while the verdicts were returned by the foreman.

While this was taking place, relatives of the three friends walked out of the courtroom.

“God doh sleep. That is my son they kill…” Eccles’s mother said as she and a small group left the Hall of Justice.

They had been in the court since the trial started on July 11, after it was transferred from San Fernando when defence attorneys complained about the case being heard at the O’Meara Judicial Centre in Arima. The San Fernando High Court is undergoing repair work.

Khan had threatened to boycott the trial and said he was prepared to face a contempt of court charge for disobeying a court order.

Seven officers were originally charged with the murders but one of them turned state witness after being granted immunity.

That officer, WPC Nicole Clement, was deemed a hostile witness at the trial.

It was the State’s case that the officers fired on the car driven by Johnson at the corner of Guness Trace and Rochard Douglas Road, Barrackpore. Duncan and Eccles were passengers in the car and were following Duncan’s common-law husband, Shumba James, who was in another car with two other friends.

After the shooting stopped, Johnson was fatally wounded and died in the driver’s seat of the white Nissan B15.

The officers, all San Fernando robbery squad members, said they received intel about James as homicide detectives were building a case against him for two murders. They said they were told James had in his possession a firearm used in the murders. They also said they were fired on by the occupants of the B15 and returned fire.

Although they did not testify at their trial, the six officers insisted they acted in self-defence.

According to prosecutors, the evidence showed “this was a clear case of murder,” with no element of self-defence as posited by the defence.

Clement also claimed in earlier testimony at the preliminary inquiry, that Duncan and Eccles initially survived the “gunfight” at Barrackpore and were taken to a lonely road off the M2 Ring Road, Woodland, where they were executed. She spoke of clandestine meetings to cover up the killings and a changing-up of the Barrackpore crime scene. Her evidence from the magistrates’ court was admitted as her evidence in chief at the trial after she refused to answer any questions from attorneys.

In April, this year, she wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions claiming she was the main suspect in the murders and had threatened her colleagues at gunpoint to follow her orders to kill the two civilians.

Jury allowed to review ballistics, video evidence

The trial featured hundreds of pages of scientific reports from ballistic testing, and medical and post-mortem reports.

The weapons assigned to the officers were also tendered and shown to jurors. On Friday, they were returned to the courtroom in case the jurors wanted to examine them during their deliberations.

Closed-circuit television footage taken from a car parts business on Rochard Douglas Road, where the shooting took place, was also shown to jurors. A laptop containing the two videos was given to the jury who were also allowed to take with them a box filled with all the reports as well as an envelope with their notes and other pieces of evidence copied for them during the trial.

Sgt Khemraj Sahadeo, one of six police officers acquitted of 2011 Moruga triple-murder charges, is hugged by colleague, Clinton Sampson, on the steps of the Hall of Justice, Knox Street, Port of Spain, on Friday. – Photo by Roger Jacob

James also testified along with the two other friends he was with when the shooting took place as well as civillians who were at a barbeque stall awaiting their food orders that night.

The shooting deaths of the three sparked outrage in the Moruga community and led to six days of protests in which villagers called for justice, blocked roads and set fires. The officers were put on suspension and during the residents’call for justice, then commissioner of police Dwayne Gibbs, deputy commissioner Jack Ewatski and Supt Irwin Hackshaw met with Eccles and Johnson’s families at the St Mary’s Government Primary School, Moruga.

Retired ACP Raymond Craig was appointed lead investigator and after almost three months of investigations, which included a “recreation of the crime scene,” the seven officers with the murder of three friends on October 31, 2011.

Sgt Glen Singh, one of six police officers acquitted of 2011 Moruga triple-murder charges, is hugged by colleague, Clinton Sampson, on the steps of the Hall of Justice, Knox Street, Port of Spain, on Friday. – Photo by Roger Jacob

They were the first set of officers charged with murder while performing their duties.

The six officers were also represented by attorneys Ulric Skerritt and Arissa Maharaj while special prosecutors Gilbert Peterson, SC, and Elaine Greene, along with State attorneys Giselle Ferguson-Heller and Katiesha Ambrose-Persadsingh prosecuted.

As the six officers walked out of the Hall of Justice free men, they hugged their families. There were red eyes and stained faces. Their three attorneys were also adorned with “Malas” (Indian prayer beads). Maharaj was presented with a single long-stemmed rose.

This story has been updated with additional details. Below is the original article.

Six police officers charged with the murders of three friends in Barrackpore in 2011 have been found not guilty.

The jury deliberated for less than an hour on Friday afternoon before returning with the verdict.

Sgt Khemraj Sahadeo and PCs Renaldo Reviero, Glenn Singh, Roger Nicholas, Safraz Juman and Antonio Ramadhin were charged with the murders of Abigail Johnson, 20, of St Mary’s Village, Moruga, Alana Duncan, 27, of Duncan Village, San Fernando, and construction worker Kerron “Fingers” Eccles, 29, also of St Mary’s Village, at the corner of Gunness Trace and Rochard Douglas Road, Barrackpore.

The three friends were shot to death on July 22, 2011, but the officers maintained they were shot at first and returned fire.

According to forensic pathologist Dr Eslyn McDonald-Burris, Johnson died of multiple gunshot wounds to the forehead, face, neck and chest while Duncan suffered a collapsed lung and injuries to her elbow, leg, and chest. Eccles had gunshot injuries to the right side of his body, mainly his chest, arm and hip.

During the trial, the main witness WPC Nicole Clement refused to testify against her colleagues.

This is a breaking story and it will be updated.