A DNA collection bungling on the part of the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force has resulted in the freedom of a man accused of the raping and murder of a female Dominican waitress in February of 2009.
Seasoned attorney Stephen Akinsanya and his firebrand partner Mark Fulford of F Chambers Attorneys at Law argued successfully that proper procedures were not followed in obtaining intimate DNA samples from accused Dwayne Belazaire. Belazaire was charged with the murder of 27 year-old Ramona Lopez, who was living in Five Cays in Providenciales. Police reports indicated that the body of the woman was found in a ditch near the La Familia Restaurant and Nightclub, adjacent the Down Town Ball Park, at about 3:40am Monday, February 2, 2009. Persons allegedly saw a partially burnt object resembling a human and called the police.
Investigators later identified the body to be that of a woman, who later turned out to be Lopez. Later examinations on the body revealed that she was also so raped. Family members said the Lopez was out partying with friends on the night of her death. Belazaire was subsequently taken into custody on April 17 that same year and charged with rape and murder of the woman. During his incarceration he provided DNA sample to investigators by way of saliva.
In the Providenciales Supreme Court, the accused man’s attorneys argued that the DNA sample obtained and was being used as evidence against him was not taken in accordance with Turks and Caicos law. Belazaire was said to have complied with investigators’ request for DNA sample to be taken from him, but it later came out in court that detectives did not seek the blessing of the court to do so, thus ruling the procedure illegal. Akinsanya said it was unclear to the defense as to under what circumstance Belazaire was arrested and charged with the crimes.
“But what we do know is that after that, on the 18th of April 2009, his DNA was taken. It was taken illegally, contrary to the police ordinance, and as a result of that, even though he was subsequently charged in May, 2009, with that rape and murder, we took a point before the case started as to the admissibility of that DNA evidence,” Akinsanya said, following the trial.
According to Akinsanya, the Ordinance stated that for someone to provide an intimate sample, a court order and the consent of the person have to be sought. “In this case, whilst arguably, they obtained his consent, what they did not do was get a court order. And because of that, there was a point for myself and Mr. Fulford to take with relation to the correctness of that DNA being obtained from him (Belazaire) and, subsequently the admissibility of any evidence relating to DNA,” Atkinsanya disclosed.
The Prosecution, headed by JoAnn Meloche, decided to discontinue the case against Belazaire, upon the defense raising the matter in court. “I can’t speak for what they may or may not do from this point onwards, but at the moment, we consider Mr. Belazaire a man who should release from custody, and that was the order of the court,” Akinsanya said.
In the Meantime, Fulford said it is up to Belazaire to determine whether or not he wishes to seek restitution for his incarceration since 2009, even though he believes that his client is not interested.
“I think Mr. Belazaire wants to move on with his life now that his name has been cleared and, that is the obvious thing to do. I don’t think he is seeking any financial redress, because he has not given us any instruction to do so,” Fulford said.
The two attorneys said Belazaire maintained his innocence through-out the trial, which concluded on Tuesday, September 27.
The Presiding judge in the matter was Justice E.P. Goldsbrough.