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7 Trinis seek new trial in US

Published: 
Sunday, November 19, 2017
Kidnap/murder of Balram “Balo” Maharaj
Trevor Hewick

When everyone felt that the case was closed on the kidnap and murder of United States citizen Balram "Balo" Maharaj, comes news that new motions have been filed in the Federal Court in Washington DC, which could see a new trial for the seven convicted Trinidadians.

Even more interesting is that if the seven men get a new trial, who would testify against them next time? Three of the four co-conspirators, who testified for the US Government in 2009, have been deported to Trinidad.

The seven were convicted in 2009 and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. But new information has surfaced and the defence has until December 15 to file their submissions which would allow Judge John Bates to fix a date for the hearing sometime in mid 2018.

In the interim, a private investigator from the United States is now in Trinidad interviewing potential witnesses and visiting certain places as he prepares his case for his client, Anderson Straker.

Trevor Hewick, a retired police officer, is hoping to gather enough evidence so that the seven Trinidadians serving life imprisonment in the United States could have a final shot at a re-trial. Hewick is in T&T for nine days.

Well-placed sources said Hewick, who was born in Guyana, "is in Trinidad to coordinate some of the inconsistent statements made by the co-conspirators (Russell Joseph, Leon Nurse, Jason Percival and Winston Gittens), and the lack of investigations conducted by the Trinidadians' US attorneys and investigators to argue certain aspects of the case for the defendants.

The co-defendants believe that their respective attorneys and investigators were ineffective in presenting their case to the United States Government.

One of the main issues Hewick is pursuing is the relationship between former US prosecutor Bruce Hegyi and Gittens, a co-conspirator, who turned witness for the US Government against the seven Trinidadians.

Hewick has been interviewing several people as he hopes this could assist the defence in their final shot at a new trial. Hewick went to Mayaro where he interviewed witnesses on behalf of his client, Anderson, who lived in that community. He has been to the area where Maharaj was kept hostage at Grand Curacaye, Lower Santa Cruz. He has also been to the Samaan Bar, Aranguez, where Maharaj was snatched, and he has been to the Mellow Moods Bar, where meetings took place over the negotiations.

The defence has until December 15 to file any amendments to their new submissions, following which a date will be set for the arguments.

THE CASE

Seven Trinidadians were convicted in 2009 and sentenced to life imprisonment by Judge John Bates in Washington DC.

The convicted men were Kevin “Shaka” Nixon; Anderson “Gypsy’s Son” Straker; Christopher “Boyie” Sealey, also known as Christopher Bourne; Wayne “Ninja” Pierre; Army Cpl Richardo De Four; Zion Clarke; and Kevon “Ketchit” Demerieux.

They were among 13 people extradited to the US to answer charges relating to Maharaj’s killing. Former member of the Defence Force Special Forces Unit, Sgt Leon Nurse, and ex-soldier Jason Errol Percival, also known as “Soldier,” both of Santa Cruz, had initially pleaded guilty after securing a deal with US prosecutors in exchange for their testimony.

Together with Russell Joseph and Gittens, they gave evidence for the US Government. Nurse, Joseph, and Percival are back in Trinidad after short prison terms, while Gittens remains in the US.

They were convicted of:

* Conspiracy to engage in hostage taking contrary to Section 3 of the Taking Hostages Act.

* Hostage taking contrary to Section 3 of the Taking of Hostages Act.

* Aiding and abetting the taking of a hostage under Section 3 of the Taking of Hostages Act.

* Conspiracy to engage in hostage taking.

One man, David Suchit, was acquitted, while Maharaj’s former common-law wife, Doreen Alexander-Durity, was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Maharaj, 62, a US war veteran was kidnapped outside the Samaan Tree bar, Aranguez, on April 6, 2005. The prosecution’s case was that Maharaj was held hostage under very harsh conditions, including depriving him of essential medications, while his abductors demanded a $3 million ransom from his family for his safe return.

The money was never paid. The dismembered and badly decomposed body of Maharaj was located by FBI agents and local law enforcement officers on January 8, 2006, in a forest at Grand Curacaye, Santa Cruz, buried in two plastic barrels.