Murder accused released since he was unfit to plea
By Morris Cyrille
The Roseau High Court, presided over by Justice Colin Williams, adjourned at about 11:35 am on Tuesday, October 3, 2023, in a most sombre mood when a mentally challenged man had to be led out of the court by the police because the State could no longer detain him.
New resident judge Justice Colin Williams released murder accused Curvin John Ravalier, 31, from State custody after all avenues to find him a safe environment to protect him and the public came up short. The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Defence Counsel Tiyani Behanzin and the police failed to come up with someone who could care for the accused or an alternate residence to the State Prison or the Acute Psychiatric Unit (APU) to take him in.
Leading up to that decision, the court learnt through the DPP's Office, the police, and even a social report that Ravalier of San Sauveur had no one to support him. The social welfare report had the man's mother saying she could no longer take care of him and the father saying he no longer saw the patient as his son. These sentiments were revealed in court on Friday, September 29, after Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Nadia Wallace, attached to the APU, had given an update on Ravalier's mental condition.
Counsel Peter Alleyne, Legal Aid Clinic and Tiyani Behanzin had asked Justice Richard Floyd last December to evaluate Curvin Ravalier's fitness to plea.
Ravalier appeared before Justice Floyd for his arraignment on the murder charge at the Roseau High Court on Thursday, January 12, 2023. Ravalier could not plea, and the case was adjourned to Monday, February 17, 2023, when a psychiatrist should examine the accused.
Justice Floyd asked a few questions of the accused. From the lack of comprehension or answers, the judge had no hesitation in ordering the evaluation.
DPP Sherma Dalrymple, alongside state attorneys Daina Matthew and Marie Louise Pierre Louis, represented the State. Ravalier is charged with the murder of Francois Laurent, a male adult, in the community of San Sauveur on Sunday, April 30, 2017.
Ravalier was remanded at the State Prison, and his mental disorder came to the fore when it was time for him to stand trial. A jury of six women and three men before Justice Thomas W. R. Astaphan found the accused unfit to plea in a fitness hearing on Wednesday, April 19, 2023. Justice Astaphan ordered that Ravalier should be admitted to the APU for treatment.
Dr Nadia Wallace stated in April that Ravalier had long suffered from mental illness, returning to when he lived in Guadeloupe and returning to Dominica in 2012. He was treated at the Acute Psychiatric Unit (APU). He had schizophrenia, cognitive deficiency, hallucinations, paranoid delusions and was not in touch with reality. He did not appreciate the implications of his actions, simply stating he had run for a knife and choked (stabbed) him in the chest and did not know if the other man had died. While an inmate at the Stock Farm State Prison, he also stabbed an officer in the back of the neck and did not know the implications.
It was the expert opinion of Dr Wallace that Ravalliere was not fit to plead or stand trial. Questioned by the DPP, Dr Wallace added that Ravalier could not give attorney instructions during a trial.
In response to some probing by Judge Astaphan, Dr Wallace explained that schizophrenia is a mental illness which has a debilitating effect. The patient sees or hears things not present and is characterized by delusions of things that are not true or exist. The person's speech is disorganized and makes no sense between the question and answer given. The person's behaviour is disorganized, and one can't tell what the person can do.
Ravalier was a heavy user of marijuana and drank alcohol, which would worsen the symptoms of a schizophrenic person besides not taking their medication. From her study of his medical history and her examination, his cognitive impairment had moved from mild 20/30 to 8/30.
The jury's verdict was expected after listening to Dr Wallace.
Justice Astaphan ordered that Ravalier be taken to the APU for treatment.
Dr Wallace told the court on Tuesday, July 11, that there was no significant future change. The accused was still unable to plea or answer to charges against him. Justice Astaphan's order was similar to the April 2023 order in which Ravalier should be treated at the APU and that counsel should look at legislation to move this process.
Dr Wallace was back at the Roseau High Court on Friday, September 29, to give the results of her latest patient examination on Monday, September 25. He no longer had withdrawals or hallucinations, and his psychotic disorder had decreased. His cognitive impairment was 21/30. He was still unfit to plea or answer to charges. The doctor did not expect significant improvement in his mental state, and there was no treatment for it. He was born cognitively deficient, like someone born with Down Syndrome, and there was no care. Dr Wallace did not see him as a danger to society, but he would need a support system to ensure he took his medication to keep him that way.
It became the turn of Judge Williams to take the case forward. The doctor told the court that an excellent cognitive score would be 25 or more over 30. Justice Williams did not just want to let the patient loose. Chances, Grotto Home or Community Hostel Inc. and the Roseau Infirmary were mooted. One of the directors of The Grotto Home, Ainsworth Irish, was invited to the court. He said there was only one staff member on hand at the time, the others being on sick out because they had not been paid for four months. The Home needed more beds to accommodate all their residents.
Justice Williams thanks Behanzin for his alertness in bringing this matter forward. The judge ended: "I can't detain him".
The court adjourned. A police sergeant went out of the courthouse with Curvin John Ravalier.