ON August 21, 1959, Essequibo farmer, Flavio DaSilva and his employee, John DeFreitas, who aspired to wed the boss’s 14-year old daughter, Gwendoline, went upriver on a duck-shooting exhibition. Flavio never made it back alive. He was murdered by the man who wanted to be his son-in-law.
Later that same day, DeFreitas returned on foot with the sad news that DaSilva had fallen overboard and died by drowning.
Police investigations, however, revealed that DaSilva was murdered; that he’d died from gunshot wounds and strangulation. DeFreitas was charged with his murder.
At his trial, DeFreitas, who was represented by criminal lawyer, Mr J.O.F. Haynes, QC, and PN Singh, put forward several defences, including self-defence, provocation and accident, but the jury rejected them all and found him guilty of murder.
Dissatisfied with the jury’s verdict and the trial judge’s summing-up, he next appealed to the Federal Supreme Court in its Appellate Jurisdiction.
That Court, constituted by Chief Justice Hallinan, and Justices Rennie and Marnan, dismissed DeFreitas’ appeal and affirmed the conviction and death sentence.
Summarising the facts of the case, Justice Marnan said: “The case for the Crown was that the appellant and the deceased went out together in a 27-foot boat on the Essequibo River to shoot ducks. The only weapon they took was a sixteen-bore, single-barrel shotgun belonging to the deceased.
“A few days previously, the appellant, who lived with and worked for the deceased, had disclosed to the deceased and his wife that he was in love with their daughter, Gwendoline, and wished to marry her.
“The appellant being over forty years of age, and Gwendoline only 14, the proposal led to a heated discussion, which was left unresolved.
“The seeds of a quarrel had thus been sown when the appellant and the deceased set out at three o’clock on the morning of August 21, 1959 alone in the small boat.
“Later the same day, the appellant returned on foot with a story to the effect that the deceased had fallen overboard and been drowned. He made a similar statement to the police.
“The boat was found moored in the river, but its anchor and a length of rope were missing. On August 22, the body of the deceased was discovered, washed up on the river bank by the tide. There were wounds on the head, a gunshot wound in the chest, and a piece of rope was tied tightly around the neck.
“The medical evidence was that death was due to the gunshot wound and strangulation. In the doctor’s opinion, the gunshot wound was the first injury inflicted, then the head wounds, which were consistent with blows from the gun barrel. The deceased was still alive when the rope was tied round his neck, but dead before he was put into the water.
“The gunshot wound would eventually have caused death if not attended to, but the head wounds alone would not have been fatal.”
Noting that the appellant had made further statements to the police on August 23 and 25, Justice Marnan said:
“In the former, he repeated his story that the deceased had fallen overboard by accident. In the later statement, which was made under caution, he told an entirely new story, upon which he relied at trial as constituting his defence.
“He did not give evidence or call witnesses, but made an unsworn statement from the docks, which was as follows:
‘I made a statement to the police already, Exhibit N. I have said everything I have to say. I had no intention of doing anything. I am really sorry for what has happened. I have nothing more to say.’”
Continuing with his judgment, Justice Marnan said:
“In his summing up, the trial judge told the jury: ‘In this case, the defence is contained in a statement which the accused made to the police, and in his statement from the dock at trial. In these statements, you have intertwined four defences: The defence of insanity, with which you can couple automatism; the defence of self-defence; the defence of accident; and the defence of provocation.’”
As the judge went on to explain:
“The effect of the appellant’s statement, Exhibit N, was that while out in the boat, the deceased told him, the appellant, that he was going to dismiss him and turn him out. The appellant replied that the deceased might regret that step, because he would make Gwendoline follow him.
“The deceased then threatened to shoot the appellant, and picked up his gun and loaded it. The appellant, who had been sitting in the stern, steering, jumped up, caught hold of the gun in the deceased’s hands, and began to wrestle him for it.
“The deceased fell down, and the gun went off whilst the appellant was standing over him, trying to take away the gun. The deceased was holding the barrel, but the appellant got the gun away from him.
“The appellant then ‘got mad or something,’ and remembered hitting the deceased on his head with the gun. The appellant then threw the gun overboard. The deceased said twice, ‘Gwendoline, my daughter, you is the cause of this.’ The deceased looked as if he was dying, and said to the appellant, ‘Sonny, throw me overboard.’ The appellant then tied a piece of rope, which he cut from the main sheet, around the deceased’s neck, but could not remember why he did so.
“He then threw the deceased and his baboon-skin cartridge bag into the river, took down the sail, stopped the engine, and dropped the anchor. Later, when he came to himself, he found that the anchor, which had been attached to a chain, was gone. He hoisted the sail and went ashore.”
The Federal Court found that the trial judge had correctly directed the jury on all aspects of the case, and had left no stone unturned as to cause them to interfere with the jury’s verdict.
In his remarks to the jury, the trial judge, among other things, had told them, “Finally, if you are satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the death of the deceased was caused by the deliberate act or acts of the accused, and that at the time of committing those acts, or immediately before he intended to kill the deceased, or to do him grievous bodily harm, and that in doing so, he was not acting in self-defence or under the impulse of provocation or suffering from some disease of the mind, your verdict should be one of guilty of murder.”
The appeal was dismissed by the Federal Supreme Court.