Due to the lack of sufficient evidence, Jarvis ‘Barry’ Small was on Friday freed by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) following his conviction for the 2010 murder of his stepdaughter, 16-year-old Neesa Gopaul, while her mother, Bibi Shareema Gopaul’s appeal was dismissed.
The panel of five judges, however, reduced Bibi’s 45-year jail sentence to 25 years with the possibility of parole after 15 years.
The judgment was read by Justice Denys Barrow but the case was heard collectively by him and over President of the CCJ, Justice Adrian Saunders, Justice Jacob Wit, Justice Maureen Rajnauth-Lee, and Justice Peter Jamadar.
The ex-lovers had moved to the Trinidad-based court to challenge their conviction sentence for the brutal murder of the teen.
The pair was initially sentenced to a combined total of 202 years in prison for the gruesome murder of the teen, having been found guilty at the Georgetown High Court in March 2015, and sentenced to 106 years and 96 years imprisonment, respectively, by High Court judge Justice Navindra Singh.
Dissatisfied with the ruling of the court, the duo moved to the Court of Appeal to challenge the conviction and sentence, arguing that the trial was unfair and that the judge erred in law.
In September 2021, the court reduced their respective sentences to 45 years; the conviction was however upheld.
For the CCJ case, Small was represented by attorney Nigel Hughes and Associates, while attorney Arud Gossai is on record for Gopaul. The state was represented by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Shalimar Ali-Hack.
Hughes had argued that the indictment should have been severed, allowing for two separate trials to be conducted. He contended that this ultimately led to the evidence against his client being prejudicial.
Among other things, Hughes had said that the only evidence led during the murder trial against his client was a pair of dumbbells found at the crime scene which the police said belonged to Small.
He added that there was no direct or circumstantial evidence linking his client to the crime and the state failed to prove a nexus between the dumbbells and Neesa’s death.
Meanwhile, Gossai argued that the trial judge failed to inform the jury that DeNobrega was not a reliable witness since she was convicted for fraud-related crimes.
Justice Barrow, while reading the ruling, said that the case against Small should have been dismissed since there was no case for him to answer due to the lack of evidence.
The CCJ court ruled in favour of Hughes’ argument and found that Small should have been tried separately at the High Court since the evidence led was “greatly prejudiced” against him.
The CCJ found some serious investigative flaws and noted that other supportive evidence was weak or equitable in the case.
The CCJ dismissed Bibi’s appeal but found that there had been “no fair and just sentencing” process in the case since the sentence imposed by Justice Singh exceeded the life expectancy of a human being and was grossly disproportionate.
However, the court allowed the appeal for sentencing and substituted a sentence of 30 years with a five-year deduction for time spent on remand.
In the end, Bibi was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment with the possibility of parole after 15 years.
On October 2, 2010, the remains of Neesa Gopaul were discovered at a location along the Soesdyke-Linden Highway, tucked inside a suitcase that was partially submerged in a creek.
A rope had been wrapped around the suitcase, and dumbbells were attached at one end, apparently in an effort to keep the body underwater.
Besides the body, a passport bearing the name, Neesa Lalita Gopaul, was found. The teenager was reported missing just days before the gruesome discovery was made.
Her head had been bashed in and the trial heard that 50% of it was gone when the recovered corpse was examined.
Subsequent to the discovery of the body, the teen’s mother, Bibi, and Small were arrested and charged with murder.