The Court of Appeal will this morning hear submissions in the appeal of two men convicted of brutally murdering six-year-old Sean Luke, as teenagers, over 16 years ago.
In the appeal, lawyers representing Akeel Mitchell and Richard Chatoo are claiming that High Court Judge Lisa Ramsumair-Hinds made several errors when she convicted them of the heinous crime after a virtual judge-alone trial almost exactly a year ago.
Mitchell and Chatoo’s legal team filed eight grounds challenging Ramsumair-Hinds’ decision in the case, including failing to properly identify key principles of law applicable in the case and making inferential findings that she was not entitled to.
They also contended she wrongly considered the evidence of State witness Avinash Baboolal, Luke’s neighbour, who the accused men repeatedly sought to blame for Luke’s murder and the DNA evidence presented in the case.
“We respectfully submit that the learned trial judge committed several errors of law which would necessarily result in a miscarriage of justice,” their attorneys said.
The duo’s lawyers are also claiming that even if they are unsuccessful in convincing the appeal panel that their convictions are unsafe, the sentences they received from Justice Ramsumair-Hinds were too severe and should be adjusted.
As they were minors when they committed the crime, Mitchell and Chatoo were sentenced at the court’s pleasure and were ordered to serve mandatory minimum terms of 33 years and 27 years respectively.
Mitchell and Chaitoo would be eligible to be considered for release in 17 and a half years and 11 and a half years respectively, as the time they spent on remand before being convicted was deducted from their sentences.
In response to the appeal, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) claimed the grounds raised by the duo’s lawyers are not meritorious and their convictions and sentences should be affirmed.
Luke, of Henry Street, Orange Valley Road, Couva, went missing on the evening of March 26, 2006 and his decomposing body was found two days later. An autopsy revealed he died from internal injuries and bleeding, arising out of being sodomised with sugarcane stalk.
Chatoo and Mitchell, who is the stepson of Chatoo’s brother, were charged with the crime. During the trial, State prosecutors led the evidence of teenagers Avinash Baboolal and Arvis Pradeep, who claimed that Chatoo had invited Luke to accompany them on a fishing expedition.
Both Baboolal and Pradeep claimed that they saw Luke, Chatoo and Mitchell enter an abandoned sugarcane field, where Luke’s body was eventually found, with only Chatoo and Mitchell emerging.
However, while Baboolal claimed they entered the field on their way to the river, Pradeep claimed the diversion came when they were returning.
In convicting the duo, Justice Ramsumair-Hinds also considered a video-recorded confession statement, in which Chatoo implicated himself and Mitchell.
In the recording, Chatoo claimed that Mitchell, who was spending time at his home, requested that he (Mitchell) have sex with him. According to Chatoo, after he refused, he reluctantly agreed to Mitchell’s request to introduce him to Luke, who was his (Chatoo) neighbour.
Chatoo claimed that he merely held Luke’s hands and covered his mouth as Mitchell raped him and sodomised him with the sugarcane stalk.
However, Chatoo elected to testify in his defence during the trial and claimed he fabricated the confession as he was threatened and coerced by homicide detectives.
Chatoo denied any wrongdoing and claimed Mitchell did not accompany the group on the fishing trip. He also sought to suggest that Baboolal may have been the perpetrator.
Prosecutors also led DNA evidence which showed that Mitchell’s semen was found on Luke’s discarded underwear.
A partial DNA profile, not linked to Chatoo, was found on the sugarcane stalk and on anal swabs taken during Luke’s autopsy.