Toddler killed in arson: Suspect committed to stand trial for murder

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The preliminary inquiry (PI) into the arson at Kaneville, East Bank Demerara which claimed the life of eight-month-old Romain Seth earlier this year concluded on Thursday with Principal Magistrate Judy Latchman ruling that sufficient evidence has been presented before the court to establish a prima facie case of murder against Nigel Dodson.

Deceased: Romain Seth
Nigel Dodson

Magistrate Latchman has committed him to stand trial at the next practicable sitting of the High Court in Georgetown.

In delivering her ruling after a moment of deliberation, the magistrate returned to the bench and declared, “I am of the opinion that the evidence has established a prima facie case on the charge of murder against the accused”.

Dodson appeared visibly upset as the magistrate handed down her ruling, and declined to say anything or present witnesses when given opportunity to so do.

Defence counsel Keoma Griffith, relying on the recently closed murder case of the Police versus Regan Rodrigues, aka “Grey Boy,” as one of his authorities, had earlier submitted that there was insufficient evidence to implicate his client in the crime.

Griffith made reference to a witness’s statement to the court (under cross-examination by the Defence during the PI) to the effect that a few days prior to the arson incident, he (the witness) had a confrontation with the accused, during which Dodson had mouthed threats directed solely at him (the witness).

Griffith therefore submitted that other witnesses who had heard the threat expressed should not have considered themselves likewise threatened, and their testimonies can only be deemed “hearsay”.

Moreover, Griffith continued, it was confirmed by police statements in court that the accused had said he did not set fire to the house, nor had he any intention of doing so, nor did he have any knowledge of how the fire had been set.

Referring to Grey Boy’s case, the lawyer reminded the court that concrete evidence is important; for, despite it being confirmed that a weapon found in a house had indeed been used in commission of a murder, the mere fact that this weapon was found in the dwelling house of the accused was undoubtedly insufficient to convict the defendant of murder.

Along this line, he argued that there was no direct evidence to link his client to the crime, except for the mere presence of the accused at the scene and the reported threats he had uttered.

Conversely, Police Prosecutor Shawn Gonsalves submitted that a prima facie case had been made out against the defendant, as the witnesses’ evidence was solid and well corroborated, at no point being discredited by intense cross-examination by the Defence during the course of the PI.

The prosecutor argued that it is undisputed that the deceased was at the time in the said house, and lost his life as a result of smoke inhalation and burns — so confirmed by the post mortem report.

The prosecutor reiterated that the fire report had indicated that the blaze was not caused by electrical means, thus inferring the possibility of foul play. In addition, he requested that the court rely on voluntary oral statements made by the accused to investigators, admitting that he did threaten to kill the family.

While accepting that no eyewitness had seen the defendant commit the act, the prosecutor submitted that a properly directed jury would return a guilty verdict after putting together the “bits and pieces” of evidence presented.

An early morning fire on January 23, 2017 destroyed the three-bedroom home of Michelle Menezes several days after arson accused Nigel Dodson had threatened to kill her entire family. Most regrettably, it claimed the life of her eight-month-old grandson, Romain Seth.

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