By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Court of Appeal has freed a man previously convicted of raping an underage girl primarily because she tested positive for a sexually transmitted disease while he did not. The appellate court quashed Rukeithso Richardson’s 14-year sentence for having sex with the minor because him testing negative for gonorrhoea ran contrary to her testing positive for the disease.
The appellate court further noted that the prosecution’s case against him was based “solely” on the girl’s testimony, and that there was no “corroborating” witnesses to support her evidence or any forensic evidence to implicate him.
Coupled with the fact that Richardson denied the girl’s allegations against him, the appellate court said his trial was in essence “a contest of who was telling the truth, who was the more credible of the two”.
However, the Court of Appeal said Richardson’s chances of convincing the jury that he was telling the truth was “severely” hampered by the trial judge’s failure to neutralise the mention of both his alleged abuse of the girl’s relative by giving the jury a “good character direction” on the man’s behalf.
“By so doing, the judge would ensure that the trial was fair,” the appellate court said.
According to the ruling, the Crown previously asserted that Richardson raped the girl on two occasions: once between October 9 and October 12, 2015 and again between August 16 and 31 of that year.
On June 2017, Richardson was convicted of two counts of unlawful sexual intercourse and was sentenced to seven years on each count, to run consecutively. The ruling said the girl’s accusations against Richardson arose out of an incident at school on October 14, 2015 when she was asked about her homework.
On that day, the girl’s relative had gone to Nassau for medical reasons, and Richardson ended up taking her to school. Once there, her teacher asked the students to hand in their homework—however, she didn’t have her homework.
The girl said she didn’t want to lie, so she said she “had to come up with an excuse”. She couldn’t come up with one, however, so she simply told the teacher that Richardson had been abusing her relative.
As a result, the girl was taken to the vice principal of the school, who asked her questions like “when did it start”; how old was she when it happened. The vice principal asked her if Richardson hurt anyone else, to which she replied in the affirmative and said he also hurt her.The ruling also noted that the girl “expressly testified” that she hated Richardson because of what he allegedly did to her and for allegedly abusing her relative. Additionally, the child’s relative testified that she hated Richardson because of what the girl told her he had done to her.
However, the appellate judges noted that Richardson’s case was not one where the complainant “spontaneously” volunteered information about her abuse; but rather one “where it was proffered by her as an excuse for not handing in her homework”.
“Hence, there was a need for the judge to direct the jury that before convicting (Richardson) on the evidence of (the girl) alone in the absence of any corroborating evidence, they must proceed with caution,” the appellate judges said.
The appellate judges further noted that as Richardson gave evidence on his behalf during the trial, he was “therefore ‘entitled to the benefit of a good character direction from the judge when summing up to the jury’”.
“In fact, this was a case where the invidious mention of (Richardson’s) purported abuse of (the girl’s relative) and his alleged infidelity required the judge to bring some semblance of balance to the trial by giving the good character direction to the jury. By so doing the judge would ensure that the trial was fair.”
The appellate court further noted that the good character direction was necessary to neutralise the “extraneous evidence” that was led before the jury, such as the alleged domestic abuse, Richardson’s infidelity and alleged incidents of sexual contact with the girl that “fell outside the charges laid against him”.
The appellate judges ultimately quashed both Richardson’s conviction and sentence, and did not order a retrial. Their reason for not doing so, according to the ruling, was because the evidence against Richardson was “weak and tenuous”.
Specifically, the appellate judges said the trial judge ought to have highlighted the “implausibility” of the girl’s complaint in view of the fact that Richardson did not have gonorrhoea despite allegations he had unprotected sex with the girl, who was suffering from that disease.
“That, combined with the animosity (the girl) held against (Richardson) for abuse of her (relative) and (the relative’s) hatred for (Richardson), albeit she said it was for what he had done to (the girl), we were of the view that it would not be in the interest of justice to order a new trial and we declined to do so,” the appellate judges said.
Marianne Cadet and Brendalee Rae represented Richardson on appeal.