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Court orders retrial for man accused of raping girl
The Court of Appeal has ordered a retrial for a Siparia man convicted of raping a 15-year-old schoolgirl in 1997.
Delivering a 64-page majority judgment, Appellate Judges Alice Yorke-Soo Hon and Mark Mohammed quashed the conviction and corresponding 22-year sentence against David Baptiste as they ruled that he had been prejudiced by several decisions taken by High Court Judge Hayden St Clair-Douglas during his trial in 2016.
Although Yorke-Soo Hon and Mohammed stated that the State’s case against Baptiste was strong, they noted that the evidence was not overwhelming as there were issues with the reliability of the victim’s evidence.
“With that in mind, we are not satisfied that the jury, properly directed, would have no doubt convicted Baptiste upon a consideration of the whole of the admissible evidence,” they said.
Appellate Judge Rajendra Narine provided a dissenting judgment in which he disagreed with his colleagues as he felt that there had been no substantial miscarriage of justice in the case.
As part of their decision, they released Baptiste on $65,000 bail pending his retrial, which is yet to be set.
While his attorney Colin Selvin raised seven grounds in his appeal, only three were upheld in the majority judgement.
Yorke-Soo Hon and Mohammed agreed that St Clair-Douglas erred by discussing evidential objections in the presence of the jury, by failing to give a robust warning over a lie told by the victim and in allowing bad character evidence from a woman, who claimed to have been raped by Baptiste two years after he allegedly attacked the teen.
In assessing the final ground, the judges stated that St Clair-Douglas was allowed to admit the evidence which showed his propensity to commit similar acts, even though the charges related to that incident were dismissed.
However, they ruled that it was highly prejudicial because Baptiste’s alleged second victim was violently beaten and repeatedly stabbed in her attack while the teen was not.
“In this regard, we are of the opinion that the evidence of the alleged violence inflicted on the second woman was significantly more prejudicial than probative and would have had the potential to paint a severely unbalanced picture to the jury,” they said.
They also ruled that St Clair-Douglas had properly advised the jury over other bad character evidence, which included his refusal to take a DNA test upon his arrest.
As they assessed whether a retrial was appropriate, they admitted that the 21- year delay between the commission of the offence and a retrial was not ideal.
“However, the reality is that in this jurisdiction, there is frequently some level of delay in the resolution of criminal matters because of the extremely heavy backlog of cases,” they said.
According to the evidence at his first trial, on June 11, 1997, the victim was walking home after school along Quinam Road in Siparia, when Baptiste stopped his car and offered her a lift home.
She claimed that he took her to a dirt road in the community where he raped her.
The victim initially told her mother that she had lost her school bag in a taxi, but changed her tune the following day after confiding in friends.
When Baptiste was detained by police, he admitted to giving the victim a drop but denied raping her.
Baptiste attended several hearings of his preliminary inquiry before he skipped bail and went to the United States in 2001. The case resumed after he was eventually deported in 2008.
Baptiste’s alleged second victim claimed to have been attacked under similar circumstances before he migrated.
He was charged with the attack but denied any wrongdoing as he claimed that it was a case of mistaken identity. The charges were eventually dismissed.
Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Angelica Teelucksingh-Ramoutar represented the State in the appeal
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