TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO: FOUR CONVICTED KILLERS REMOVED FROM DEATH ROW
August 18, 2023:
Four convicted killers housed in the condemned section of the Port of Spain prison at Frederick Street for decades have had their death sentences vacated. (Source: Newsday, 20/08/2023)
In declaring that any attempt to carry out the death sentence on the four would be in contravention of their constitutional rights, Justice Margaret Mohammed on August 18, 2023 ordered that they be immediately removed from death row.
She also ordered that the four be resentenced by a judge in the Criminal Assizes.
Mohammed will also assess damages due to them for the breaches of their rights at a later date and ordered their attorneys to file submissions on the issue in November 2023 and January 2024.
The four who will now receive compensation from the State for the lengthy delay to execute them are Garvin Sookram, Jay Chandler, Keron Lopez and Mukesh Chandradath, who each filed constitutional motions alleging their rights were breached.
They are represented by attorneys Gerald Ramdeen, Wayne Sturge, Dayadai Harripaul and Nerisa Bala.
Each man presented the court with an affidavit detailing their complaints. Sookram, 48, has been on death row for 14 years, five months and six days, awaiting execution.
Chandler, 44, has been in the condemned section for 12 years; Lopez for 14 years, five months and six days and Chandradath for 12 years, two months and 19 days.
The men said being on death row for more than a decade has robbed them of the opportunity to prove to a court that they have served a satisfactory period of time to satisfy the requirements of retribution and deterrence.
“I would like an opportunity to prove to a court of law that I have served a proportionate and just punishment that equates to the crime that I was found guilty of committing,” one of the men said in their affidavits.
They said they all feared that if the court did not intervene, the State would continue to detain them indefinitely.
“I have suffered and continue to suffer and will continue to suffer at the hands of the State unless this court intervenes in this matter,” the judge was told.
Sookram, a reputed gang leader from Sawmill Avenue, Barataria, and his partner, Lopez, were convicted on March 2, 2009, of the murders of Kerwin "Richie" Hinds, and Kerwin "Ox" Cyrus, on July 28, 2004, at Sawmill Avenue, Barataria.
Chandler was sentenced to death on August 11, 2011, for the murder of Kirn Phillip on October 8, 2004. Phillip died after being stabbed, while both men were serving sentences at Golden Grove Prison, Arouca.
In 2021, Chandler urged the Privy Council to declare this country’s mandatory death penalty for murder as unconstitutional.
In May, last year, nine law lords ruled on the landmark case, pronouncing that the death penalty would remain on TT’s statute books as the punishment for murder.
Although it held that the punishment was cruel and unusual, they said it was not unconstitutional.
Trinidad is the last country in the English-speaking Caribbean to retain the mandatory death penalty for murder and the case reignited the debate on the death penalty.
In their ruling, the nine judges reproached TT for keeping the hangman’s noose.
“It is striking that there remains on the statute book a provision which, as the government accepts, is a cruel and unusual punishment because it mandates the death penalty without regard to the degree of culpability.”
Chandradath was convicted of murdering Selwyn Grant, 65, and his 70-year-old wife Ursula Innis at their home at Allen Drive, Syne Village, Penal in 2011.
The couple’s decomposing and headless bodies were discovered by their grandson on September 16, 1999.
Grant was found under an abandoned tank in the yard and his head was found in a bag secured by wire. Innis’ body was found in a bathtub in the bathroom, while her severed head was found in a bag floating in a water tank.
Chandradath filed a malicious prosecution and false imprisonment claim seeking $1 billion in compensation which was unanimously rejected by the Court of Appeal in 2019.