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'I can't preside over case'

Clerical error frees accused killer

By Rickie Ramdass rickie.ramdass@trinidadexpress.com

A HIGH Court judge yesterday said he no longer had any jurisdiction to preside over a murder trial in which two men were jointly charged after one of the men was freed due to a clerical error last month.

Justice Malcolm Holdip told attorneys representing both the State and the second accused, Michael "Wolf" Ramdawar, there were inconsistencies in his written ruling which allowed Anthony "Tonic" Amogan to walk free on December 14.

Attorneys representing both Ramdawar and Amogan had made an application to have their clients freed on the basis of the 15-year delay to bring them to trial.

The men were accused of shooting Ramcoomar Ramoutar to death on February 22, 1997. They were convicted for the crime in 2003 but were granted a retrial in 2006.

In his written ruling in response to the application, Holdip stated the delay between 1997 to 2006 did "not suggest delay that is unjustifiable".

"At common law, even where delay is unjustifiable (which in this case it is not), a stay is only granted as exceptional circumstances, and even more rarely where there had been no fault on the part of the complainant or the prosecution," the ruling stated.

In contradiction to that statement, the paragraph that followed, the judge stated the period of delay of 15 years and nine months "is significant and holds that the delay is unjustified".

"Therefore, in considering all the circumstances of the case, in addition to the period of delay, I hereby grant the stay of the indictment for the first named applicant (Amogan) as in this court's view, the accused cannot receive a fair trial as prejudice arises in the circumstances."

Amogan was then allowed to walk out of the court a free man before the judge noticed the error.

The decision, however, cannot be retracted. Attorneys seeking the interest of Ramdawar submitted to the court on December 17 that it would be unjust to have him go to trial with his co-accused being set free as they both made the same application under the same circumstances.

Both men also had the same evidence against them.

Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Kathy Ann Waterman-Latchoo had submitted that Holdip could no longer preside over the matter.

Senior Counsel Israel Khan, who held for attorney Mario Merritt, argued the judge still had conduct of the matter even though he had delivered his decision and said his client should have also benefitted from a permanent stay of his indictment.

At yesterday's hearing, Holdip said after considering the submission by both the defence and the State, he no longer had jurisdiction over the matter and could not revisit his previous ruling that led to Amogan being set free.

Attorneys representing Ramdawar said they would be making the same application before another judge to also have their client freed.

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