– appeal hearing begins at CCJ
THE Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), on Tuesday, heard that Bibi Shareema Gopaul and her ex-lover, Jarvis ‘Barry’ Small, should not have been tried together for the 2010 murder of 16-year-old Neesa Gopaul.
The pair moved to the Trinidad-based court to challenge their conviction and 45-year sentence for the brutal murder of the teen.
The matter is being heard by the President of the CCJ, Justice Adrian Saunders, along with Justice Jacob Wit, Justice Maureen Rajnauth-Lee, Justice Denys Barrow, and Justice Peter Jamadar.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Small’s attorney, Nigel Hughes, and Bibi’s attorney, Arud Gossai argued that the decision of trial judge, Navindra Singh, and the manner in which the case was considered on review by the Court of Appeal, were deeply flawed.
Both attorneys submitted that the reduced sentence that was imposed by the Court of Appeal was severe and not within the guidelines of modern sentencing principles.
According to Hughes, the indictment should have been severed, allowing for two separate trials to be conducted. However, since that was not done, the evidence led by the prosecutor against Bibi was prejudicial to Small.
The attorney also said that the only evidence led during the trial against his client was a pair of dumbbells that was found at the crime scene by the police, which they assumed belonged to Small.
Additionally, he argued that there was no nexus between the dumbbells and Neesa’s death, nor was there any direct or circumstantial evidence linking his client to the crime.
Against that background, the attorney argued that his client should not have been committed to stand trial at the High Court, given the insufficient evidence which was presented during the preliminary inquiry at the Magistrates’ Court.
He also contended that the evidence of the main witness, Simone DeNobrega, during the trial was highly prejudicial to his client.
DeNobrega was Bibi’s former cellmate and she had testified during the trial that the woman confided in her that it was Small who killed Neesa.
“There is no doubt that the testimony of DeNobrega was strong, powerful, and implicated the second name accused (Bibi), in no uncertain terms. It’s also evident that the testimony of DeNobrega could not have been used against the number one accused (Small),” Hughes said.
Meanwhile, Gossai said that the trial judge failed to inform the jury that DeNobrega was not a reliable witness since she was convicted for fraud-related crimes, which were of a “dishonest nature.”
This, he said, was “fundamentally flawed” since the trial judge made an error by not warning the jury as to how they needed to assess the evidence of DeNobrega.
The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Shalimar Ali-Hack, during her submission addressed the pair of dumbbells, which allegedly belonged to Small.
The DPP stated that a witness had testified to seeing Small with the dumbbells at Bibi’s home. Among other things, the DPP said that there was no miscarriage of justice in the case.
When questioned by the CCJ president as to whether Bibi’s conviction could have been possible without the evidence of DeNobrega, the DPP responded in the affirmative before explaining that this was so, because there was circumstantial evidence against the accused.
She pleaded with the CCJ judges not to interfere with the sentence imposed by the Court of Appeal given the nature of the case.
“Your honours, I just ask that whatever decision the court makes that it communicates society’s condemnation of the gruesome murder of this child, by someone no less than her own mother and the lover of her mother,” the DPP said.
Meanwhile, the CCJ president commented on the lack of forensic evidence presented during the trial.
“It’s unfortunate that there was not any serious forensic evidence, in this case, to help to provide proof of who committed this murder… that is very unfortunate,” he said.
It was at this point that the CCJ decided to reserve its judgment in the appeal.
In 2015, a jury found the accused guilty of murdering the child. They were later sentenced by Justice Singh to 106 years and 96 years, respectively. The murdered teen was Bibi’s elder daughter.
The pair subsequently approached the Court of Appeal challenging their conviction and sentence and, in September 2021, the court reduced their respective sentences to 45 years; the conviction was however upheld.
Prior to the murder, Small and Bibi were in a relationship, and, at one time, Small had even lived with the woman and her daughters at Leonora, West Coast Demerara.
Neesa’s body was found submerged in a suitcase in the Madewini Creek in the vicinity of the Emerald Towers Resort on October 2, 2010, around 14:00hrs, and at the time was believed to be headless.
A post-mortem later revealed that the body was not headless but was, instead, clobbered beyond recognition.
Dumbbells similar to those found in a gym owned by Small were found tied to the suitcase in which the body was found.
In addition to the body, a passport bearing the name Neesa Lalita Gopaul was also found. The teenager was reported missing just days before the gruesome discovery was made.
Subsequent to the discovery of the body, Bibi and Small were arrested and were later charged for the crime.