No closure to tragedy of Daniel Guerra
By COREY CONNELLY Sunday, September 22 2013
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Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar places a copy of the letter she wrote to murdered schoolboy Daniel Guerra at his funeral service at the Word of ...
Who killed Daniel Guerra?
More than two years after the Gasparillo schoolboy’s gruesome demise, police and indeed, Guerra’s family, are yet to put closure to the tragedy, which triggered a nationwide outpouring of sympathy and condemnation and also prompted a personal intervention from Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
In fact, it may well be a case of going back to the drawing board to determine the circumstances which led to the death of the young boy who went simply to run an errand at a mini mart a stone’s throw away from his home, two-and-a -half years ago.
On Wednesday, police officer Darwin Ghouralal, who had been charged with the schoolboy’s death, walked away from the San Fernando Magistrates’ Court a free man after Magistrate Rajendra Rambachan upheld a no-case submission by the policeman’s lead attorney, Sophie Chote, SC.
However, the State, through Acting Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Joan Paul-Honore immediately told the court that the prosecution intended to petition a judge in chambers for a warrant for Ghouralal’s re-arrest.
Ghouralal, 45, was arrested and charged for Guerra’s murder in April, 2011, some two months after the boy’s body was fished out of a river near the Tarouba Link Road, San Fernando. The policeman, who, at the time, was assigned to the Mon Repos Police Station, remained imprisoned as Rambachan carried out a preliminary inquiry at the San Fernando Magistrates’ Court over the 29 months.
And while the prosecution had pursued the charge for a potential High Court trial, the witness statements which were submitted for the magistrate’s consideration were largely based on circumstantial evidence.
Chote told Newsday on Wednesday, the evidence at the inquiry “pointed in another direction and further investigation should be done in relation to another person.” She submitted there was no reasonable evidence upon which a jury could convict.
For his part, the exonerated policeman said: “I know in my heart that I had nothing to do with this. My heart is pure and my hands are clean....”
How, then, does Guerra’s family move on from this horrifying ordeal, which has now given rise to more questions than answers?
On the morning of February 18, 2011, Guerra, eight, a Standard Two student of Gasparillo Government Primary School, left his Bedeau Street home, to purchase two bottles of Lucozade at the nearby K&D’s Mini Mart with a $20 bill his mother, Rona Indarsingh, had left for him. He never returned home.
The mini mart’s owner, Kassim Mohammed, was reportedly the last person to see the boy alive.
Mohammed, who said Guerra had purchased the drinks and was headed in the direction of his home before he went missing, lamented on Thursday that the boy’s killer was still on the loose.
“At the end of the day, Daniel’s killer is still out there and should be brought to justice,” he said. Guerra had stayed at home that day, nursing a head injury he sustained while playing at school. There were reports that he was seen entering a silver-coloured Nissan Almera car at about 12 noon that day near his home.
Guerra’s family left no stone unturned in trying to find him. With meagre means, relatives distributed flyers with his photograph in Gasparillo as well as in Tabaquite, San Fernando, Marabella and other areas. The boy’s father, Lincoln Guerra, a part-time mechanic from Tabaquite, had also blamed himself for his son’s death, acknowledging that he had not played an active role in his life. In addition, an anonymous source, through newspaper advertisements, had also pledged $15,000 for anyone with a lead in the matter. From all accounts, Guerra was a typical good-natured boy.
“He was like our shining star, such an intelligent boy and he always used to make you laugh and smile, he was a boy full of so much love,” his grandmother was quoted as saying in an interview during his disappearance.
Guerra’s ambition, relatives said, was to become a “rich boy” to support his family. At the time he went missing, he had already saved $630 towards this objective, they claimed.
At about 5.30pm on February 21, four days after he went missing, Guerra’s decomposing body was found floating in a river off the Tarouba Link Road, after a passenger in a maxi taxi proceeding along the road raised an alarm when she spotted a body trapped in vines in the murky river water. Police were later called to the scene.
The boy, who lived with his mother and grandparents, Shirley and Randolph Indarsingh, was found with the clothes he was last seen wearing — a red short pants and white vest, but without any shoes. However, investigators could not say, at that point, if there were any discernible signs of violence.
The family’s worst fears having been realised, relatives immediately wondered about a motive for the killing, which rattled the community and sparked fervent calls for the return of the death penalty.
Civil society groups and activists were outraged by what they regarded as the senseless killing of another innocent child.
Former Independent senator and Chairperson of the Coalition for the Rights of the Child Diana Mahabir-Wyatt bemoaned the lack of legislation to effectively protect children.
“We don’t have adequate legislation, we don’t have adequate institutions to prevent or to help in situations like this,” she had said in an interview opposite to Archbishop House around the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain, during a protest organised by civil society groups
“The Children’s Authority was established two years ago (2008,) but it is still not staffed. There is a board, but we are a country so full of talk and not action. How many more children have to die before this legislation is completed?”
Diego Martin Central MP Dr Amery Browne, who lent solidarity to the cause, described the killing as “a national tragedy.” “This is not the first time Trinidad and Tobago has been in this position and I am hoping that this is the last time. We are not doing enough as a country to protect our young ones,” he said.
Distraught by the killing, the PM, who visited Guerra’s grieving relatives, labelled the perpetrator a “monster” and called for swift justice.
“As a mother myself, as a grandmother, I can feel it in my stomach,” she said.
“For us as a Government, we must leave no stone unturned to bring this monster to justice. Whoever is responsible for this we must find that person and the full brunt of justice and law must be applied.”
Persad-Bissessar called for the passage of the Capital Punishment Bill to reinstitute hangings. The legislation is yet to return to the Parliament for debate.
Later, in an unprecedented move on March 1, 2011, Persad-Bissessar penned a letter to Guerra, which subsequently gave birth to what became known as the “Daniel Decree.”
The letter, which was essentially a pledge to defend the honour of the nation’s children, was read during the inter club of Trinidad and Tobago’s tenth Annual International Women’s Celebration at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Port-of-Spain.
“The Daniel Decree is a dedication to defend our nation’s children in your memory and others like you who have been so cruelly taken from us,” said Persad Bissessar, noting that crime had been wreaking havoc in the country.
Persad-Bissessar said the Daniel Decree was an initiative with a social agenda, which involved NGOs partnering with the Government, the Police, army and private sector in tackling the issues of crime and child neglect and abuse.
To date, the initiative has remained virtually inactive.
Guerra’s remains were subjected to three autopsies, the last of which was performed by Dr James Gill, a deputy chief medical examiner in the Office of Chief Medical Examiner, Bronx County, New York, who was retained by the Government to examine the body at the San Fernando General Hospital. The autopsy revealed that Guerra was strangled.
The first two autopsies, performed at the Forensic Science Centre, in St James and San Fernando General Hospital, respectively, gave conflicting results.
The first, performed by Dr Eastlyn Mc Donald-Burris and Dr Valery Alexandrov, had determined the cause of death to be drowning while the second, conducted by UWI’s professor of pathology Dr Hubert Daisley, listed the cause of death as asphyxia. Gill’s pathology report stated that Guerra’s death was caused by homicidal asphyxia.
Meantime, there was much speculation that the car in which the boy was spotted entering on the day he went missing could have played a role in his murder. Police subsequently impounded a silver car belonging to a police officer who was said to be well-acquainted with the boy. Police, who initially said the policeman was not a suspect since he was not on duty at the time, later seized two station diaries from the police station to which the officer was assigned.
He was also among more than 60 people whom the Police interrogated. At that time, the policeman had maintained his innocence.
The pace of the probe, though, did not sit well with Guerra’s relatives.
Frustrated by the fact that the Police had no concrete suspects, despite an intense investigation, relatives, in March, 2011, urged the Government to enlist the services of the Federal Bureau of Investigations to continue the probe.
The Government complied and on March 23, FBI agents arrived in the country and visited Gasparillo and Tarouba where they conducted their own investigations.
Less than one month later, PC Darwin Ghouralal, a father of two, was arrested and placed on several identification parades. Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard subsequently gave instructions for him to be charged.
On April 11, 2011, Ghouralal appeared before a San Fernando magistrate charged with the murder. He first stood before Magistrate Roger Ramgoolam who read the charge that between February 17 and 21 he murdered Daniel Guerra.
Ghouralal was not called upon to plead as the charge was laid indictably. He was then incarcerated at the prison’s infirmary, separate from the regular prison population. The policeman was also suspended pending the outcome of the case.
But, after two-and-a-half years of testimonies, including those of the dead boy’s relatives the shopkeeper who had last seen him and several policemen, Rambachan on Wednesday upheld a no-case submission by Ghouralal’s attorney Sophia Chote, SC and told Ghouralal he was free to go.
During the preliminary inquiry, the prosecution, led by Acting Assistant DPP Paul-Honore and State attorneys Sarah de Silva and Chris Ramlal, had pursued the charge for a High Court trial via a paper committal. But several witness statements, which were tendered for the magistrate’s consideration, hinged primarily on circumstantial evidence.
Chote had objected to the paper committal, arguing in a no-case submission filed on May 15, that the State was seeking to have Ghouralal committed for murder on the basis of inferences drawn from circumstantial evidence.
The prosecution now intends to make good on its plan to petition a judge in Chamber’s for Ghouralal’s re-arrest. Thus begins another heart-rending chapter in the death of little Daniel Guerra.