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Mental experts on cousins’ murder appeal: They’re not fit to stand trial

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Appeal Court has begun hearing evidence from a group of British mental health experts who claim that five convicted murderers, who were diagnosed with learning disabilities, were not fit to confess and stand trial for their alleged crimes. Chief Justice Ivor Archie and two appellate judges heard evidence yesterday from Drs Tim Green and Richard Latham, who testified on the mental capacity of two cousins—Deenish Benjamin and Deochan Ganga—to stand trial for the murder of another cousin in 2003. The two doctors are expected to remain in Trinidad for the rest of the week to testify in the appeals of three other convicted murderers, Nigel Brown, Marcus Daniel and Tabeel Lewis. The cases were referred to the Appeal Court by the Privy Council, which heard the evidence on the mental health issues of the five men and suggested their ability to participate in their trials might have been affected. 


Apart from their ability to stand trial, the Appeal Court is also being asked to determine the reliability of their alleged confessions and whether they were entitled to raise a defence of diminished responsibility. Green, a clinical psychologist, testified in the cousins’ appeal yesterday that after doing tests on them, he concluded they had very low IQs which put them in a group of two per cent of the population who possessed an extremely low mental capacity. “Somebody with that low of an IQ would find it difficult to weigh up all matters he will face on trial,” Green said. Dr Richard Latham, a consultant in forensic psychiatry, testified that he came to the same conclusion after performing his own battery of tests on the cousins at the Port-of-Spain State Prison in 2010. He diagnosed both men with mild mental retardation. 


But Dana Seetahal, SC, representing the State, disputed the experts’ claims that the cousins did not have the mental capacity to take part in their trial, refering to evidence from their former lawyers, which showed the cousins had given them sufficient instructions during the trial. “People are able to communicate. That does not show that they were able to assimilate and analyse the information being communicated,” Latham  responded. Seetahal also questioned the foreigners’ involvement in the case, suggesting they were acting on behalf of the British-based anti-death-penalty group Death Penalty Project. The experts denied any direct connection between the group and the cousins’ assessments, but admitted that the group had contributed financially to a book they had written with two other colleagues. The hearing continues today.


History of the Case

Benjamin, 32, and Ganga, 29, were convicted and sentenced to death on December 4, 2006 for the murder of their cousin Sunil Ganga. Sunil died on July 12, 2003 after being beaten and hung from a rafter in a shed behind his Penal home, next to Benjamin and Ganga’s home. During the trial, Sunil’s wife, Roseanne, testified she saw both men entering the shed before her husband’s death. It was the State’s case that both men confessed while under interrogation from police, but they both denied that while on trial. The cousins appealed to the Privy Council which considered their new evidence on their mental health and sent the case back to the Appeal Court  in March 2012. The cousins are being represented by Keith Scotland and Daniel Khan. 


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