GEORGETOWN –– Scores of Guyanese swarmed the Georgetown High Court yesterday for the conclusion of what is being called one of the most high-profile murder trials in recent years.
Bibi Shareema Gopaul, 42, and her 37-year-old lover Jarvis Barry Small were sentenced to a combined 202 years in jail for the murder of her teenage daughter Neesa Gopaul.
Yesterday, following a month-long trial, Justice Navindra Singh sentenced the mother Bibi Shareema Gopaul to 106 years in jail and Jarvis Barry Small to 96.
The sentence was handed down after a mixed 12-member jury deliberated for three hours, before delivering a unanimous guilty verdict to a packed courtroom of curious onlookers.
In handing down his ruling, Justice Singh noted that both sentences started with a base of 60 years for the murder. The judge added ten years to each sentence for premeditation; ten years for brutality; ten years because it was child that was murdered; and six years because the matter was related to domestic violence.
He however added an extra ten years to Gopaul’s sentence since she had been found guilty of killing her own child.
The atmosphere of the courtroom and its environs became increasingly tense prior to the verdict. The panel took almost three hours to return the verdict.
Persons filed into the courtroom for the decision. The crowd consisted of lawyers, magistrates, police officers and civilians. Some persons had to stand, even though additional benches were placed in the courtroom.
After the announcement of the verdict, Justice Singh asked the accused whether they had anything to say before
A straight-faced Small stood up and told the judge that he did not believe he received a fair trial.
“It was more like a media trial; I believe that prejudicial material was entered into in this case.
“I believe the judge is unfair and more of a politician by nature. There is no evidence presented in this case that could be used against me or anybody to [convict us] for murder,” the former gym instructor said.
Justice Singh told Small that he [Singh] had no political ambitions, but that “the case speaks for itself. The jury has made a decision”.
Small’s lawyer then requested a probation report, but the judge did not grant his request.
Bibi Gopaul stood shaking in the dock. She told the court that she had not lied; that everything she said could be verified.
“Sir, when you directed the jury you could have done a little more in my favour.”
She noted that Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee had visited the prison twice when she was incarcerated. Gopaul said she told Rohee about the case and he in turn told her that he knew about the case, but that “there is a lot more to it than that”.
Gopaul’s attorney had requested a non-custodial sentence. However, Justice Singh told the woman that he could not imagine what kind of monster she could be to participate in the murder of her own child.
“You lied throughout this trial. I know you might not live out this sentence, but I hope wherever you go, you serve it there,” the judge said.
Justice Singh summed up the evidence presented in the trial that has riveted Guyana for the last four weeks. During the summing up, the judge told the jury that consisted of six males and six females that they were the sole judges of the facts when reviewing the evidence. Justice Singh told the jurors that they were free to accept or refute the views presented by the prosecution and the defence in the trial.
“You must consider the evidence and make decisions without sympathy, prejudice or fear.”
The judge told the jurors that the persons charged were to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise.
He gave the panel the definitions for certain terms in accordance with the law and urged the panel to use commonsense, intelligence and experience before arriving at a verdict.
Justice Singh told the court that the evidence could be either direct or circumstantial. As such he noted that the trial was one based on circumstantial evidence. The judge said the prosecution was required to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Justice Singh thereafter recalled the evidence of 27 witnesses, who had testified in the trial. The courtroom audience sat upright and listened attentively for in excessive of four hours as the judge recounted the evidence.
The judge said that the prosecution had to prove that it was Neesa Gopaul who had died; that she died as a result of injuries she received and a within a year a day after injuries were inflicted, and that the two accused persons were responsible for her death.
The judge recounted the evidence of numerous police witnesses who told the court that in October, 2010, crime scene investigators (CSIs) retrieved a body purported to be that of the missing teenager from a creek at Emerald Towers Resort, Soesdkye/Linden Highway.
The judge noted that DNA analysis confirmed there was a 99.98 probability that the body most likely belonged to a female child of Bibi Shareema Gopaul.
Justice Singh further noted that based on the testimonies of several witnesses, the teenager was seen with her mother at the Leonora Police Station in August, 2010. At the time Bibi Gopaul had reported to the police that her boyfriend Jarvis Small had physically assaulted her and sexually molested her daughter Neesa.
The judge noted that based on the evidence of police witnesses, the girl and her mother had made more than one trip to the police station in which she attempted to refute allegations before she was reported missing on September 23, 2010.
The judge detailed that the witnesses had testified that Neesa Gopaul had made a report of sexual assault committed against her by Jarvis Small. The witness, he said, had recalled that the girl’s mother attempted to use an affidavit to withdraw the allegations of assault and sexual molestation, but this could not be done; the matter was in the hands of the director of public prosecutions (DPP).
The judge said that subsequently Assistant Superintendent of Police Terrace Paul said he saw Jarvis Small, Bibi Gopaul and her two children in Gopaul’s vehicle; they were travelling along the Leonora, West Coast Demerara Public Road.
He said the policeman pointed out that a few days later it was reported to him that Neesa Gopaul had gone missing.
He also pointed out that the officer had said that a few days later the police testified to retrieving a body, passport and bank card bearing the name Neesa Lalita Gopaul, a sheet, and a black Muslim gown, from a suitcase with dumb-bells attached, from a creek.
The dumb-bells, the judge pointed out, were identified as belonging to Small by several witnesses, including Small’s acquaintances and Bibi Rehman (the sister of Bibi Gopaul) even though he denied ownership.
Justice Singh said that Small had told police he had knowledge pertaining to the girl’s death; that he had promised to tell the police investigators who killed Neesa Gopaul.
The judge, summing up the evidence of the prosecution’s star witness Simone De Nobrega, said that De Nobrega had testified that while in the lock-ups Bibi Gopaul had confided in her that she and her lover had murdered her daughter.
Justice Singh noted that this evidence could be used when considering the case against Small.
The judge however said that there were similarities in De Nobrega’s testimony and the unsworn statement which Bibi Gopaul had given to the court in her defence although the accused had denied confiding in De Nobrega.
According to the judge, Bibi Gopaul had reported that she was fearful for life and that Small had threatened her. On September 23, 2010, Gopaul reported her daughter missing but that she, Bibi Gopaul, was later found at a hotel with the very man she said she was fearful of.
The defence in this case was represented by attorneys-at-law Lyndon Amsterdam, Glenn Hanoman, Bernard De Santos SC, George Thomas and Zanna Frank.
The prosecutors were Diana Kaulesar, Stacy Gooding and Mercedes Thompson.
The trial which attracted much public attention sparked a peaceful demonstration outside the High Court yesterday.
A group of children’s rights and human rights activists stood in front the courthouse demanding “justice for Neesa Gopaul”.
Representatives of Red Thread, Childlink Guyana, the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association, (GRPA) and Help And Shelter shared their views on the issue.
Ranuka Anandjet of the GRPA held that the system had failed the teenager, and it was pertinent now more than ever that justice was served and awareness was heightened to prevent such outcomes in similar cases.
“This was her mother and a man who is supposed to be a guardian. Everybody failed her . . . . But we are trying to bring about awareness so that others would get better access to care, protection, justice and services they need.”