The prosecution in the case in which a former police officer is charged with possession of 62 pounds of beef that police believe was stolen or unlawfully obtained, has asked the court to reject the defence call that a mistrial be declared.
Defence counsel Ronny Marks made the submission to the Kingstown Magistrate’s Court last week Tuesday, March 7, after the court heard that the meat had begun to decay while in police custody.
But one week later, when the matter came up again before Senior Magistrate Rickie Burnett, prosecutor Sergeant of Police Cornelius Tittle told the court that those should not be grounds on which a mistrial should be declared.
“The meat was not destroyed by any means by the police. The police were not responsible for the deterioration of this meat,” Tittle said.
The spoilage of the meat and the resulting application are the latest in the long-running trial in which Granville De Freitas of Chester Cottage was arrested last July and slapped with the charge.
De Freitas is alleged to have had the meat in his possession on July 4, 2017 at North Union, when police conducted a search of a minivan in which he was travelling.
Tittle told the court that although the meat was deteriorating, it was still present and if the defence counsel wanted his specialist to test the meat, it is still available.
The trial had taken a number of twist and turns, with De Freitas being put on his defence last November, after the magistrate, then presiding at the Colonarie Court, sitting in Georgetown, had rejected a no case submission by De Freitas, who was representing himself then.
The prosecutor reminded the court that it had heard evidence from Mr. Craig, a health inspector who is employed in the Environmental Health Division of the Ministry of Health.
Tittle noted that Craig, who has over five years of experience, gave evidence that the meat was beef.
He said that that evidence was unshaken under cross-examination by De Freitas.
“But, most importantly, that evidence was accepted by the court,” Tittle said.
He said that while counsel “must not fetter the performance of his duty to his client, it is not reasonable for him to assert that the perishable condition of the exhibit render him somewhat impotent to perform his duty to his client”.
The question must be asked, “What weight can the presence of the meat in this preserved state add to the evidence of the defence?,” the prosecutor asked.
He told the court that the prosecution contends that in light of the evidence adduced so far, the answer to that question is none.
The defence is saying that his client should be found not guilty because nature has taken its course, the prosecutor argues.
“The exhibit has perished. Such a bold assertion flies in the face of logic and justice,” Tittle told the court, adding that the court has the authority to order the disposal of perishable exhibits at any stage before or during the trial.
In his view, the defence has a case to answer and referred the court to the case law in a 1990 case, Tittle said.
“Importantly, your honour, there was no malice by the police. The magistrate and the defendant saw the meat when it was good. Its deterioration was not deliberate by the police. Anyone who saw the meat could testify to what they saw.”
Tittle said that the meat is still available if counsel wishes to have it tested.
However, Marks told the court that they had determined on the last occasion that the meat had deteriorated to such a level that it could not even be brought into the courtroom.
“So, to say that it is available is like saying something is available and you can use it. What is the evidential value,” the defence counsel said.
He told the court that he was again reinforcing the point he made on a previous occasion that the case is not supported by any expert evidence.
Marks told the court that from his reading of the evidence, the health inspector never qualified as an expert.
He further said that there was no application made for his evidence to be treated in that special way and being afforded the treatment of being in that special category of special evidence.
“It is not. It is ordinary evidence,” Marks said of Craig’s testimony.
The matter is not whether his client has a case to answer but whether the trial could proceed fairly, Marks said, adding that that in making that determination, the court has to look at the circumstances of the particular case.
He said that the defendant’s case, from the beginning, was that it is his meat and that it is goat meat that came from his animal.
The prosecution’s case was that that could not be a reasonable explanation because the meat is not goat meat.
Marks said that from the reading of the evidence, the health inspector concluded at one point that the meat was pork and later said that one of the vets also claimed the meat to be other than beef.
The lawyer said that the charge itself said that the meat is beef.
“Your honour, the determination of this is crucial to the defence.
He said that the prosecution had submitted to the court in such a manner as to suggest that the police had no responsibility in the matter.
The lawyer, however, said it is the duty of the prosecution to ensure that there is a fair trial.
“It is the duty of the prosecution to preserve and maintain the integrity of evidence. This, Your Honour, coupled with the allegation and facts that are particular to this case.”
He said that the defendant is an ex-police officer, who, by his cross-examination, has alleged misconduct or, at the very best, carelessness on the part of his former colleagues.
These allegations, the lawyer said, could be inferred from questions that De Freitas asked regarding the colour of the bag that he had in his possession when he was arrested and the one that was taken from the police.
The defendant also made these allegations directly in his own evidence in chief and under cross-examination, Marks said.
“Your honour, in the face of all of these allegations, he is now deprived of the opportunity to present his defence. And, your honour, the fault of that lies squarely in the hands of the prosecution,” Marks said.
He said that by failing to discharge that duty and preserving the integrity of the evidence, the police have rendered the defence “handicapped”, adding that the defendant has no other witnesses material to his defence.
“The one thing that would have vindicated the defendant has now conveniently – and I say conveniently for the prosecution’s case, not for us – coincidentally perished and is in a rotten state, literally and figuratively.”
The magistrate said that he is sure that it is not the first time in the history of the local court or courts generally that something like that has happened.
Burnett, however, observed that the defence counsel had presented no authority on how the court should treat with the matter.
He, therefore, asked the defence and prosecution to submit those authorities to him and return for a ruling on April 17.
De Freitas sprung to notoriety on Dec. 29, 2015 for helping to arrest in Kingstown, opposition politician Ben Exeter, after police officers realised that Exeter had a firearm on his person.
Exeter was, at the time, the holder of a licensed firearm and his license was later revoked.
In November 2016, Burnett dismissed charges that were brought against Exeter and an opposition student activist who had also been arrested.
De Freitas quit the police force some time after arresting Exeter.
While testifying in the Exeter case, he said that he had become a fisherman.