BELIZE CITY, Mon. July 17, 2017–The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Belize’s highest court, held a hearing by teleconference this morning between its headquarters in Port of Spain, Trinidad, and the Belize City Supreme Court, where attorneys Anthony Sylvestre and Bryan Neal made submissions in support of an application for leave to appeal a Belize Court of Appeal decision which had ordered a new trial for Orel Leslie, 28, Tyrone Meighan, 23, and Brandon Baptist, 28, who were acquitted of the November 2012 murder of ex-Belize Defence Force soldier James Norales.
The Crown was represented by Director of Public Prosecutions, Cheryl-Lynn Vidal, S.C. and Senior Crown Counsel Sheiniza Smith.
After almost one hour of submissions by the two attorneys, who argued their first case before the CCJ, the panel of three judges ruled to affirm the decision of the Court of Appeal and ordered that the three men, Meighan, Baptist and Leslie, should get a new trial by a different judge as soon as practicable.
The three men were freed after their Supreme Court trial ended with Justice John “Troadio” Gonzalez acquitting them on a no-case-to-answer submission, but the Court of Appeal decision ordering a new trial sent them back to prison on remand.
The three were accused of the execution-style slaying of Noralez, who was shot multiple times and then thrown out of a car at the junction of Fabers Road and the then Western Highway, now the George Price Highway.
After Sylvestre and Neal had finished their submissions to the court, the court told DPP Vidal that they did not need to hear from her, because they had already arrived at a decision.
That was when the court announced that the application for leave to appeal was denied, and the Court of Appeal ruling for a new trial was affirmed.
Upon exiting the court, DPP Vidal told reporters that the application for special leave to appeal was dismissed and the order of the court below, the Court of Appeal decision, was confirmed that the accused will be retried.
“We maintained that there was sufficient evidence at the trial for the men to be called upon to answer, but the judge disagreed with us. And the law allows us, if we disagree, to take it to a higher court, and we did that, and we thought that was the end of that, but then there was this application and the court agreed with our position that they should be retried,” DPP Vidal said.
DPP Vidal said that as soon as the official order of the CCJ is received, they will take steps to have the matter listed for trial, and they would indicate to the Chief Justice through the Registrar, what the comments of the CCJ were in relation to the matter being tried as soon as is practicable. Beyond that, the DPP’s office can do nothing.
Sylvestre said that although they were not successful, “This is a very important application, and bringing the application was important to all persons who are charged with very serious crimes.”
Sylvestre explained that since 2011, there has been an amendment for persons to be tried for murder by judge alone.
“In our view there was no guidance that was given on how a trial judge is to proceed, so it was a very important application,” Sylvester said, adding that it was important because it affects hundreds of persons in Belize.
Meanwhile, Neal pointed out that over 1,000 years of legal history was wiped out because we no longer have trial by jury for serious offences. “One of the principles that we, the lawyers, raised is that now a trial judge now has to give reasons for his decision. Before this in our country, a judge had to direct a jury, but now a judge has to direct himself,” he commented.
Neal said that the importance of the case is that we are looking to the highest court of Belize for some direction on trials without jury. “And remember, this is for the most serious offences — murder and attempted murder,” he said.