The State v Akeel Mitchell

JurisdictionTrinidad & Tobago
CourtHigh Court (Trinidad and Tobago)
JudgeLisa Ramsumair-Hinds
Judgment Date23 July 2021
Neutral CitationTT 2021 HC 167
Docket NumberCRS 046/2009


Criminal Division


The Honourable Justice Lisa Ramsumair-Hinds

CRS 046/2009

The State
1) Akeel Mitchell


2) Richard Chatoo




Mrs Sabrina Dougdeen-Jaglal, Ms Anju Bhola and Mrs Sophia Sandy-Smith for the State

Mr Mario Merritt and Mr Randall Raphael, instructed by Ms Kirby Joseph for Accused No. 1

Mr Evans Welch and Mr Kelston Pope instructed by Ms Gabriel Hernandez for Accused No. 2


Akeel Mitchell (Accused No. 1) and Richard Chatoo (Accused No. 2) are before me in a Judge Alone Trial (JAT) jointly charged on one Indictment with a single count of murder. I promised to deliver a written verdict today, Friday 23 rd July 2021, fourteen days after I heard the closing arguments.


I wish to express my gratitude to all Counsel in the matter; the State led by Mrs Dougdeen-Jaglal, both Defence teams led by Mr Merritt and Mr Welch respectively and my Judicial Research Counsel Mr Ansar Mohammed; for their able assistance through the trial process. The trial, which admittedly took regrettably long to begin in our overly cumbersome criminal justice landscape, was quite involved. There were several significant rulings within the trial process, some of which were written and others delivered ex tempore. I have taken the liberty to reduce the latter into writing and included the relevant citations. Accompanying this written verdict therefore will be the rulings from the following:

  • i. Motion to Stay Proceedings (by Accused No. 1) – Monday 01 st February 2021

  • ii. Motion to Quash Indictment (by Accused No. 1) – Monday 22 nd February 2021

  • iii. Ruling on Voir-Dires (Joint ruling) – Monday 19 th April 2021

  • iv. Motion to Stay Proceedings (by Accused No. 1) – Wednesday 19 th May 2021

  • v. Oral Ruling on Objections to Adduce Fresh Evidence (by Accused No. 1) – Friday 21 st May 2021

  • vi. Ruling on No-Case Submission (by Accused No. 1) – Monday 21 st June 2021


I have considered carefully the relevant self-directions in law, the evidence adduced before me and the arguments regarding same.


I am satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that both Mr Akeel Mitchell and Mr Richard Chatoo are guilty of the murder of Sean Luke.


This trial was managed in and through the pandemic and involved intense case management through a consultative process with the attorneys. I remained vigilant regarding the concerns (my own, those expressed by Counsel as well as those ventilated in the case law 1 and legal literature 2 developed well prior to but especially since 2020 with respect to virtual justice) related to adjustments to the usual in-person format of criminal trials required as a result of the pandemic and attendant Practice Directions on Court Operations, as well as Public Health Regulations 3. As this was a capital matter where the presence of the Accused persons was entirely virtual,

I take the liberty to outline several of the precautions I took to ensure that the trial process remained fair. In the event I fail to recount them all, the trial record itself will bear me out

One concern of primary interest to me was the caution against dehumanizing defendants. In every single sitting, I took care to engage directly with both Accused persons, ever mindful that they are not passive bystanders at a remote location. This engagement was not restricted merely to routine sound and audio checks at the commencement of each morning and afternoon sitting. I informed them regularly of their opportunity to stop the proceedings by either speaking up or physically raising their right hand to get my attention. To this end, they remained affixed to one of my screens using the MS Teams pin feature and were therefore always within view. Additionally, I had the constant support of the Judiciary's Audio Visual Technology Specialist and his team monitoring our technical needs including a diligent watch over the connection to the video conference (VC) facilities at MSP (Maximum Security Prison). In April 2020, I personally visited one such prison video conference facility, sat in it and myself tested the audio and video quality in order to personally feel assured that a defendant remained connected with proceedings conducted virtually. I was so satisfied. As to their view, I caused the video feed to both remand VC rooms to be affixed with certain screens throughout the trial. For example, at no point was an Accused to lose sight of the Judge, speaking Counsel and witnesses. I made checks throughout the trial to be shown the view of their screens. I would frequently appraise the Accused of what was expected at the start of a sitting or keep them abreast of what was to come next at the end of the day. At all times, I remained aware of the opportunities provided by the Prison authorities for Counsel to meet/speak with the Accused and in fact, indicated very early on that we would sit only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, which allowed an interval between sittings. To be quite frank, the atmosphere of virtual courtesy accommodated much more engagement between Bench and the dock than is ordinarily found in-person.


I remained vigilant in preserving the integrity of the trial process. This included a number of important details before, during and after sittings. For example, in order to ensure that this trial was conducted in open court, the link to each hearing was provided to any interested member of the public and/or media who requested same from our Court Protocol and Information Unit (CPIU). Of course, I caused certain ‘rules’ to be put in place to govern the etiquette of those in virtual attendance. For example, the only cameras to be enabled were those of the Judge, speaking Counsel, witnesses and the Accused. This was intentional as, although the courtroom was now virtually available in the bedrooms, living rooms, offices and even vehicles of members of the public, I did not need those atmospheres to enter my courtroom. Persons who wished to enter the virtual courtroom were required to display their names, which allowed me to peruse the list of participants and enquire whether attendees might in fact be witnesses yet to give evidence. Media houses were present in practically every single sitting, as well as several attorneys who were not on record. The proceedings remained digitally accessible to the public at large and defined strategies ensured that there was no consequent loss to the solemnity of the proceedings. In fact, in an effort to keep the interruptions 4 during the sitting, the decision was taken administratively for the verdict to be delivered by live stream. I wish to note that if this trial had taken place at any time before the Accused attained the age of 18, the opportunities enjoyed by the media may not have been quite so liberal. While we have seen and heard grown men, this case involved Accused persons and witnesses who were children in 2006. The passage of time has undermined some of the protections I would afford to all children, even in a capital matter.


Regarding the technical glitches, connectivity issues and disruptions, in my experience, these were minimal and whenever they became apparent, they were immediately addressed. The fact remains that bandwidth issues are out of the court's control. In the instances where we lost connection with MSP or with an attorney, the sitting was halted in order to restore same. I employed different strategies, sometimes asking what was the last thing the relevant party heard and I filled in the gap of a short sentence or two that might have been missed, always checking with Counsel for agreement on the record. In one instance, I caused the FTR (For The Record — court audio digital recording system) to replay a brief portion. I found, and I suspect it was the same for Counsel in the matter, that it became quite routine to exercise patience with these technical issues. The learning curve may have been steep at one point, but with the constant support of the Judiciary's Court Information Technology Unit, all the parties learned how to use the technology. State Counsel, to her credit, appeared most comfortable and indeed, was always ready to share documents to either advance her cause or to assist the Court and Defence Counsel.


As it relates to the integrity of the proceedings, I was mindful of the concerns and took steps to ensure that there was no compromise and that the streams of justice ran pure. On only two occasions (22 nd February and 17 th March), one during each voir dire, I received evidence from witnesses who were present together with examining Counsel and the trial Judge in a court building. (Even then, Counsel for the other Accused (these were voir dire hearings) and both Accused observed that testimony via live link video. I received ALL other testimony via live link video from my home. I was nevertheless sure that there was no witness interference. Apart from two isolated instances, all witnesses testified from a court location using the Judiciary's internet services. Those included the San Fernando High Court and the Virtual Access Customer Centres (VACC) at Port of Spain, Arima, Princes Town and Scarborough. We endeavoured as far as possible to have the witnesses go to a VACC facility closest to their geographical location. On one occasion (when the pandemic curve in our country was somewhat intimidating), Mr Harrypersad (a witness who was formerly a police officer and is now an attorney in private practice) got the leave of the court to testify from his office. In ALL of those instances, a Court Marshal was physically present in the same room with the witness then in the box. The Marshal was operating under their general court obligations and my specific instructions to secure the room and the witness from interference and contamination. Regarding the VACC facilities, the rooms are outfitted with cameras that...

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