BELIZE CITY, Thurs. June 8, 2017–Three men who are accused of murdering ex-Belize Defence Force (BDF) soldier James Noralez, 28, back in November 2012, are fighting a retrial order handed down by the Belize Court of Appeal this March, with an application to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) to hear their request for leave to appeal in the country’s highest appellate court as “poor persons.”
Anthony Sylvester, attorney for the three men, told Amandala that they have yet to confirm a date on which the CCJ will consider the matter, filed on April 28, 2017.
When the accused men—Orel Leslie, Tyrone Meighan, and Brandon Baptist—were tried without jury in the Supreme Court before Justice Troadio Gonzalez, the judge ruled in favor of a no-case submission filed by the attorneys for the defendants, and were freed. It has been pointed out that the judge did not elaborate the reasons for his decision, which broadly rested on the conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to convict the men.
The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) appealed Gonzalez’s decision at the Belize Court of Appeal, which a few months ago ordered that the men face retrial.
One man is also an accused in the January 2016 murder of Marlon Castillo
At the time, Meighan and Leslie, who had to be taken into custody, were free men for more than a year, following the ruling which was handed down by Gonzalez in October 2015; but Baptist had been previously remanded to the Belize Central Prison along with two other men accused of murdering Marlon Castillo in January 2016. Baptist and the other men accused of murdering Castillo were also among 9 persons accused of the December 2015 home invasion at the residence of Lebanese diplomat Sarkis Abou Nehra, and they are to stand trial for that case as well.
In speaking with Amandala on Wednesday, Sylvester said: “In order to not go through… a second trial what they’ve done is that they have [sought to] appeal the Court of Appeal’s decision at the CCJ. What they would have wanted is to put a stay on the Court of Appeal’s decision and be granted bail, but they can’t do that until the CCJ grants leave,” Sylvester said.
He explained that for them to be granted leave by the CCJ, they would have to show that they have a good prospect of success.
He told us that they are also asking the CCJ to address a point of law, specifically in relation to how a judge is to approach a no-case submission when he is hearing a case without a jury.
He pointed out that back in 2011, the Government of Belize introduced a new regime for Belize, unlike any other country in the Caribbean, to permit a judge to hear a murder case without a jury. Countries like England and Ireland have similar provisions, but it is not mandatory, as is the case with Belize, the attorney said.
In those countries, a decision is made after an application is made by counsels for either the prosecution or defense, after considering such factors as whether there was pretrial publicity that may taint the jury or potential tampering with jury members.
Sylvester said that they are asking the CCJ to determine if the principle has to be modified for Belize and to what extent.
The attorney said that there is a backlog of cases in the Supreme Court, and he hopes that the CCJ would allow them to be heard, while deliberating on an essential principle regarding trial by a judge without jury, which would also affect other cases.
He told us that to date, there is no written judgment from the Court of Appeal, and as the civil procedure rules now stand, cases ought to be heard within 6 months for persons in custody and within 9 months for persons on bail. When that timeline expires depends on how soon the court unveils its written decision with the reasons for the retrial order, which is when the clock starts ticking.
Sylvester argues that the CCJ, which is not grappling with a backlog, can hear the substantive case much faster than the Supreme Court would.
Sylvester is being assisted by Eamon Courtenay, SC. He told us that two attorneys who were initially on the case, Arthur Saldivar and Bryan Neal, are also a part of the legal team.