THE Appeal Court yesterday dismissed an appeal filed by attorneys representing two Trinidadians and four Venezuelans who were sentenced to life in prison in 2008 after being found guilty of smuggling cocaine valued at $700 million into Trinidad and Tobago.
Justices of Appeal, Paula Mae Weekes, Nolan Bereaux and Rajendra Narine, who presided over the appeal at the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain, shot down several grounds of appeal that were argued by defence attorneys who said their clients’ convictions were unsafe.
However, the court invited submissions by the attorneys who are also challenging the severity of the sentence that was handed down by Justice (now Appeal Court judge) Alice Yorke-Soo Hon at the High Court on May 9, 2008.
Those ordered to serve life sentences are Trinidadians Victor Sylvester, 44, and Shaheed Ali, 36, along with Venezuelans Alonzo Valera, 40; Cesar Pereira, 40; Freddie Garcia, 39, and Darwin Gonzales, 29.
They were found guilty by a nine-member jury of trafficking 1,749 kilogrammes of cocaine, contained in 63 packages at Monos Island on August 25, 2005. The drug haul was considered to be the largest in the country’s history.
Yorke-Soo Hon had ordered that each of the men serve 30 years in prison before they could be released. The Venezuelans were sentenced to an additional 20 years for possession of seven firearms and 241 rounds of ammunition. Those sentences were to run concurrently with the life sentences.
During sentence, Yorke-Soo Hon had said, “The crimes committed are not only serious but quite prevalent. Being mindful of the scourge of illicit drugs, it is the court’s duty to safeguard the public interest. The sentence must be a deterrent, so others may be deterred in engaging in similar conduct.”
The defence attorneys argued at the appeal that the judge had erred in law, saying she failed to give specific directions to the jurors on a number of issues raised at the trial. They also argued that the prosecution failed to disclose crucial pieces of evidence to the defence.
Representing the men were attorneys Pamela Elder SC, Jagdeo Singh, Keith Scotland, Joseph Pantor and Daniel Khan.
Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Kathy-Ann Waterman Latchoo appeared for the State. Slain senior counsel Dana Seetahal had also previously represented the State at the appeal.