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Neesa Gopaul murder: CCJ reserves ruling in appeal mounted by mom, stepdad

(Photo: Neesa Gopaul [Dead], Bibi Sharima Gopaul and Jarvis Small) 

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has reserved its ruling in an appeal filed by Bibi Sharima-Gopaul, 50, and her younger lover, Jarvis Small– the two convicts seeking to overturn their 45-year jail sentence for the 2010 murder of the Gopaul’s daughter, 16-year-old Neesa Gopaul.

This simply means that the CCJ has decided it needs time to consider the facts and details of the case. This case was heard by CCJ President Justice Adrian Saunders and CCJ Judges Maureen Ragnauth-Lee, Peter Jamada, Jacob Wit and Denys Barrow.

Following a trial before Justice Navindra Singh at the Demerara High Court in 2016, Sharima-Gopaul and Small were found unanimously guilty of the teen’s killing by a 12-member mixed jury. Justice Singh subsequently sentenced Sharima-Gopaul and Small to 102 years and 96 years’ imprisonment, respectively.

They later appealed their convictions and sentences to the Guyana Court of Appeal, which in September 2021, allowed their appeals in part, by affirming their convictions for murder and reducing their jail sentence to 45 years each.

But the convicts were also dissatisfied with that ruling and as such lodged separate appeals at the CCJ– Guyana’s final court of appeal.

The Trinidad-based court heard a plethora of arguments from the convicts’ lawyers at a hearing on Tuesday morning which lasted for close to four hours. During arguments, lawyers for the convicts placed the spotlight on the conduct of Justice Singh which among other things included his failure to properly direct the jury as well as his admission of highly prejudicial evidence.

In essence, the defense lawyers argued that their clients’ were wrongly convicted. They also argued that Appeal Court Judges- Chancellor of the Judiciary (ag) Yonette Cummings-Edwards and Justices of Appeal Dawn Gregory-Barnes and Rishi Persaud– failed to thoroughly outline how they arrived at the sentences.

Small’s lawyers are Nigel Hughes and Ronald Daniels while Sharima-Gopaul is being represented by Attorney-at-Law Arudranauth Gossai. In his address, Hughes, inter alia, took issue with what he considered as the various shortcomings in Justice Singh’s summation to the jurors. In so doing, he claimed that his client’s defense that he did not commit the crime was not adequately put to the jury.

He argued the trial Judge “ought” to have properly listed and warned the jury about the prejudicial evidence that surfaced against his client as a result of evidence related to sexual assault allegations made by the teen girl against Small.

All three lawyers criticized Justice Singh for failing to give the jury the necessary directions on how to treat with the evidence of the prosecution’s main witness, Simone De Nobrega, who was a cellmate of Sharima-Gopaul and who had testified that the murder convict confided in her that it was Small who had killed her daughter by bashing in her head with a piece of wood.

Gossai held that the trial Judge “failed fundamentally” when he did not highlight the indicators that would trigger the necessary warnings in relation to evidence given by a cellmate. According to him, Justice Singh failed to inform the jury that De Nobrega was convicted of crimes of a “dishonest nature” and also had similar charges pending against her.

For his part, Daniels contended that the sentencing hearing was not competently informed, in that, the Court of Appeal did not indicate how it arrived at a starting point of 35 years.

In relation to the sentences, Gossai, on the other hand, argued that numbers were “randomly plucked” from out of the sky and no reason was given for how the court arrived at a starting point. Both lawyers acknowledged, however, that the appeal court Judges did give reasons for increasing the sentences to 45 years.

Considering the above, Hughes submitted that the Court of Appeal of Guyana “wrongly considered” certain legal principles which led to the “gravest miscarriage of justice” that resulted in his client being convicted. As such, the lawyers are asking the court to set aside their clients’ conviction and sentence.

Meanwhile, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Shalimar Ali-Hack, SC submitted that there was no miscarriage of justice, noting that the convictions of Sharima-Gopaul and Small were safe having regard to the evidence adduced.

She urged the CCJ to be “slow to interfere” with the sentences imposed by the appellate court. “This was a very serious case. It concerned a mother betraying her [daughter’s] trust with her lover killing… The daughter sufferred a brutal murder…” said the Senior Counsel.

Given the circumstances of this case, Ali-Hack argued that there were no mitigating factors favourable to the convicts to warrant a reduction of the sentences. “The aggravating circumstances were overwhelming,” the DPP submitted.

She, therefore, urged the Judges to return a ruling that reflects society’s condemnation of this heinous and gruesome crime while noting that the convicts’ appeals should be dismissed as they are without merit.

Sharima-Gopaul and Small killed Neesa Gopaul between September 23, and October 4, 2010, at Madewini, Linden-Soesdyke Highway. The body of the teenager who attended Queen’s College was found stuffed inside a suitcase, which was anchored in a creek at the Emerald Tower Resort with several dumbbells. Her badly decomposed body was found with the head bashed in.