Court sets aside death sentence of three ex-GDF ranks but upholds murder conviction

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The Guyana Court of Appeal has upheld the conviction of three former Guyana Defence Force (GDF) Coast Guards for the 2009 murder of Bartica gold miner Dwieve Kant Ramdass, but set aside the death sentence imposed upon them.

The appellate court instead imposed a life sentence, ordering that deductions be made therefrom for the time the three appellants, Sherwyn Harte, Devon Gordon and Deon Greenidge have spent in pre-trial custody.

However, Harte, who was a senior officer, will be eligible for parole after serving 25 years while Gordon and Greenidge will be eligible for parole after 18 years.

In 2013, the trio were found guilty by a jury of the August 20, 2009 murder of Ramdass and were sentenced to death by hanging by Justice Franklyn Holder at the Demerara High Court.

While there have been no executions carried out in Guyana since 1997, in 2010, the Criminal Law (Offences) Act was amended to provide an alternative to the mandatory death sentence.

Dead: Dwieve Kant Ramdass

Following the conviction, the trio’s attorneys Nigel Hughes and Douglas Mendes, SC moved to the Appeal Court and argued that the sentence was too excessive and unconstitutional.

The lawyers were retained by The Death Penalty Project – a London-based NGO which has, for over three decades, been providing free legal representation to those facing the death penalty.

Attorney General, Anil Nandlall, SC, during his submission in the case, had contended that the retention of the death penalty as part of Guyana’s sentencing regime is a manifestation of the will of the Guyanese people exercising their sovereignty.

Nandlall had argued that while the court has the power to modify relevant legislation to ensure it is rendered consistent with fundamental rights and principles of the Constitution, the National Assembly or Parliament has not seen it fit to remove the death penalty throughout the years.

The appeal was heard by Chancellor (ag), Yonette Cummings-Edwards and Justices of Appeal, Dawn Gregory and Rishi Persaud at the Court of Appeal.

Justice Gregory, in handing down the Court’s ruling, said that the conviction is upheld, however, the death sentence was being set aside, since it was unconstitutional and breached the defendants’ fundamental human rights under the new act.

However, as it relates to the constitutionality of the death sentence, the appellate court advised that those arguments should be advanced to the High Court.

The judge further highlighted that the charge was levelled against the trio in 2009 and their High Court trial concluded in 2013.

The implication of this, she explained, is that it came after amendments had been made to the Criminal Law Offences Act in 2010.

With the amendments, however, Justice Gregory said that judges now have the discretion to impose jail terms, while noting that the death sentence is now reserved for death resulting from specific circumstances.

According to reports, Ramdass was on his way to Bartica with a box containing $17 million to conduct business for his employer when he was taken off a boat in which he was already seated at Parika by the three then-GDF coast guards.

The soldiers then placed Ramdass in their vessel and left heading into the vicinity of Bartica.

The young gold dealer was subsequently found dead. The three soldiers reportedly split the money after they killed Ramdass.

2 Comments
  1. Derk says

    They will be living with this guilt for the rest of their lives as no argument can ever erase that phenomenon!

  2. GP says

    This is murder and they should never benefit from this crime.

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