General — 30 May 2014 — by Rowland A. Parks
Nicaraguan acquitted of theft charge for Minister’s tractor parts

Inadequate investigative work by police led to the crash of the prosecution’s case

A Nicaraguan man who was charged with the theft of almost $50,000 worth of tractor parts that were the property of Minister of State Edmund Castro was acquitted of the charge today when Magistrate Dale Cayetano dismissed the case.

With the dismissal of the charge against him, Oscar Hernandez, 46, who was unrepresented by an attorney and whose status in Belize was uncertain at the time of his arrest and arraignment, breathed his first air of freedom after being on remand for over a year because his status prevented him from accessing bail.

Minister of State Castro, in late December 2012, reported to police that someone had stolen his tractor sometime between October 1, and December 30, 2012, in Bomba, one of the villages in the Belize Rural North constituency, of which Minister Castro is the area representative.

But after numerous adjournments, when the case was finally heard in court, Magistrate Cayetano, citing a number of deficiencies in the police’s investigation during the period when Hernandez was arrested and charged, dismissed the case and freed him of the charge.

Police alleged that Hernandez, between October 1, 2012 and December 30, 2012, dishonestly appropriated $49,884.41 worth of tractor parts in Bomba.

The parts included a cylinder head valued at $970.02; a set injector valued at $1,211.94; a sniffler valued at $889.48; a hydraulic pump valued at $4,589.24; an exhaust valued at $9,090.39, an alternator valued at $1,986.53, and two jacks valued $11, 305.94, that were all the property of Castro.

One of the major flaws in the police’s case was that they did not provide any photographic evidence, in the absence of the tractor parts being brought to court and presented as exhibits for the case. This left the court’s prosecutor, Cpl. Noel Muschamp, in an untenable position.

Muschamp told the court that he had requested that the police bring photographic evidence to court, but they never complied with his request.

Another important fact that contributed to the failure of the prosecution’s case is that the charge, when it was initially read to the accused Hernandez, was never read in a language in which he is fluent.

The prosecution’s shortcomings became apparent after Muschamp called the first witness to testify, PC #86 Errol Anthony, who was the arresting officer in the case.

Anthony told the court that another police officer, Sergeant McCullock, who was fluent in Spanish, was present at the police station and read the charge to Hernandez in Spanish.

But the prosecution could not prove this assertion in court because McCullock was never called to testify, and neither was the court furnished with a report from him documenting Anthony’s assertion that he was present and had read the charge to Hernandez.

Following the testimony of the first two witnesses, Magistrate Cayetano dismissed the charge against Hernandez, and he walked out of court a free man.

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