Taxi driver acquitted of schoolteacher’s murder files $50.3M lawsuit for “wrongful detention”

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Matthew Munroe (right) with his lawyer Dexter Todd at a press conference shortly after he was discharged in May (Guyana Chronicle Photo)

Matthew Munroe, the taxi driver who was in May of this year acquitted of the 2017 murder of 22-year-old teacher Kescia Branche, after spending almost five years on remand, is suing the State for more than $50.3 million, claiming that he was wrongfully incarcerated.

The 52-year-old, a resident of Diamond Housing Scheme, East Bank Demerara (EBD), is being represented by a battery of attorneys-at-law led by Dexter Todd.

When Munroe was arraigned before Demerara High Court Judge Sandil Kissoon, the State was expected to call 35 witnesses during the trial. However, on the first day of the proceeding, the prosecution conceded that there was no direct evidence linking Munroe to the crime and that the prosecution’s main witness could not be located. As such, Justice Kissoon instructed the jury to return a formal verdict of not guilty and thereby discharged Munroe.

In his Statement of Claim (SoC) which listed the Attorney General and Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), as the respondents, Munroe is seeking $50.3 million in damages for violations of his constitutional rights, including the wrongful advancement of a murder charge against him, his wrongful detention for four years and six months and a breach of his fundamental right to liberty.

Munroe was first charged with the murder in November 2017 and was remanded to prison.

Dead: Kescia Branche

At the end of a Preliminary Inquiry (PI) on October 16, 2018, he was committed to stand trial. An indictment for the offence of murder was preferred against him in September 2020.

According to Munroe’s lawyers, they continuously wrote the DPP’s office from October 2018 to July 2021 for the discharge of their client from prison as there was no evidence to secure a conviction against him, that he was innocent and that he was unjustly being detained.

Seeking orders

Given the delay in their client’s trial, the lawyers submitted that they filed an action in the Demerara High Court seeking certain administrative orders, including declarations that their client’s constitutional rights were being breached by his continued incarceration.

“The Claimant [Munroe] remained in custody from November 2017 to May 2022 until his indictment was presented and he was acquitted of the charges against him by the Honourable Justice Kissoon after the prosecution failed to establish a case against him,” reads the SoC.

The lawyers submitted that at a case management conference (CMC) held by Justice Kissoon with them and the State prosecutor, the State prosecutor disclosed that despite there being no real evidence linking their client to the crime, he was instructed by the DPP, Shalimar Ali-Hack, SC, to still proceed and present the indictment.

Munroe’s legal team added: “The indictment was presented and the State was allowed to call their first three witnesses. At the conclusion of hearing the three witnesses, the Honouarbale Trial Judge asked for a second Case Management Conference and informed both counsel that the Honourable trial Judge had consulted with the Honourable Chief Justice as he was very concerned about the waste of judicial time and has since come to the conclusion that the prosecution will close their case and the jury will be so directed to return a verdict of not guilty.”

As a result of his unlawful incarceration, Munroe claimed that he lost $24.8 million in income as he previously worked as a marketing agent with Puran Brothers Inc, and as a taxi driver.

Besides damages, the former murder accused is asking a Judge to declare that his arrest and detention for almost five years without a trial was unreasonable and was in contravention of Article 144 of the Constitution which outlines provisions to secure protection of the law.

Article 144 (1) of the Constitution provides that: “If any person is charged with a criminal offence, then, unless the charge is withdrawn, the case shall be afforded a fair hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial court established by law.”

According to his lawyers, the DPP holds a constitutional office and “at all times was obligated to act fairly, dispassionately, in accordance with the law and legal principles and without bias in the discharge of the constitutional responsibility vested” in her office.

In addition, the taxi driver is also seeking compensatory damages, interest, costs, and such further orders the court deems just in the circumstances.

Branche, who had been a teacher at the Richard Ishmael Secondary School, had been found unconscious at the corner of Louisa Row and Princes Street, Georgetown, on November 5, 2017, and had died at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation on November 7, 2017.

Her cause of death was given as haemorrhage and blunt trauma to the head.

Munroe was arrested sometime after, and was charged with the offence of murder. He had allegedly departed Guyana for the United States of America some time in November 2017, but after spending some time overseas, had returned to Guyana and presented himself to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) Headquarters at Eve Leary, Georgetown.

The Police have said that, during interrogation, Munroe could not provide information on his whereabouts on the night that the schoolteacher was reportedly assaulted, as well as a reason for his car bumper being missing. Branche had been a mother of one and a resident of Cummings Lodge, Greater Georgetown. According to reports, the young mother had left home for a night of partying. Her son was left in the care of a friend, who revealed that Branche had told her she had intended to go to a city nightclub to meet a male friend.

Branche had later returned home, but had subsequently left again. She had told her friend that she would be home by 02:00h but had never returned. She had last been seen leaving a nightclub on Lamaha Street, Georgetown, in the company of two Police ranks. The father of Branche’s child was also arrested after the teacher’s mobile phone was found in his possession.

He and four Policemen had been questioned about her death, but they were later released from custody. Munroe and his lawyers have since pleaded with the Guyana Police Force (GPF) to reopen the investigation into the murder of the young woman.

“I would like for this case to be reopened. If the media and the general public could join with me and we could ask the Government or whoever is responsible for this case to be reopened so that justice could be served. It is not fair for Ms Branche and her family and even for her son…it is not fair for them; justice must be served,” a tearful Munroe had related. (Feona Morrison)