Justice Alex Henderson agreed with Defence Attorney Ben Tonner last week and found there was no case to answer for a woman facing four counts of criminal libel.
Stephanie Amante, 35, was accused of writing letters in 2006 with intent to defame the character of Somasunderam Pradeepan, with whom she had been in a relationship.
One letter was sent to Cayman’s Chief Immigration Officer in July 2006. It contained defamatory matters: that Mr. Pradeepan had a criminal background in Canada and was linked with terrorist organisations.
Another letter was written in October 2006 to Mr. Pradeepan’s employer, purporting to be from Cayman’s Immigration Department. That letter said he had been detained at Miami International Airport for criminal activities and was refused entry to the USA.
Amante chose to be tried by judge alone. Crown Counsel Tricia Hutchinson presented the case for the Prosecution.
Justice Henderson said the two pillars of the Crown’s case were motive and handwriting analysis. But Mr. Tonner produced an e-mail Amante had received from Mr. Pradeepan, which undermined the alleged motive. Then the handwriting evidence was undermined by the investigating police officer, who told the court he had lost his notes in Hurricane Paloma.
In his ruling, the judge said he was assuming that the letters were defamatory – ‘that they were sent with malice and without good faith and that they were intended to injure the reputation of Mr. Pradeepan, which appears to have been a good one.’
It was alleged that Amante was motivated by resentment and revenge to send the letters, while Mr. Pradeepan’s other friends and colleagues did not appear to have a motive.
Amante, a Filipina, ‘was clearly enamoured of Mr. Pradeepan,’ the judge said. ‘She followed him here from Dubai. I infer that her reason for coming here was largely to be with him. They had a relationship, which Mr. Pradeepan was at pains to say was not on his part a committed relationship.
‘Nevertheless, it was a physical relationship over the course of several moths and from all the evidence I infer that Ms Amante very much wanted to have a long-term and lasting relationship with Mr. Pradeepan. Does that give her a reason to defame him?’ he asked.
There was no evidence of resentment on her part, no resentful comments made to friends, no resentful act, the judge pointed out. But the obvious effect of the letters, if believed, would have been the immediate removal of Mr. Predeepan, a Canadian, from this jurisdiction.
The judge wondered why Amante would want the object of her affections removed from Cayman if she were trying her best to establish a long-term relationship with him.
‘Mr. Predeepan had another relationship with a woman in London,’ the judge noted. ‘We don’t know much about that relationship at all…. Assuming the woman in London knew all about the relationship in the Cayman Islands, she would clearly have a motive for wanting Mr. Predeepan removed from this jurisdiction in the expectation that he would come home to London.
‘Over all, I do not think it can be inferred with the degree of safety required in criminal trials that Miss Amante had a motive to the exclusion of anyone else.’
Justice Henderson referred to an e-mail the defence attorney produced when cross-examining Mr. Predeepan. Miss Amante had received it from the witness on 4 October, 2006, – after some of the defamatory letters were sent. The e-mail expressed considerable affection for Ms Amante and clearly encouraged her to think there was something more than friendship to be had, the judge summarised.
He concluded it would be unsafe for the trier of fact to find that Amante and no one else had a motive to send the letters.
In addition to evidence of alleged motive, the Crown brought Questioned Document Examiner Frank Norwitch to testify about his comparison of handwriting exhibits.
Justice Henderson said handwriting evidence is not scientific in the same sense as DNA evidence, fingerprints or blood analysis. ‘Traditionally no court would convict on the basis of handwriting evidence alone, no matter how eminent the expert.’
Mr. Norwitch had compared the writing in the letters to ‘the known standard’ – samples of writing said to have been written by Amante.
This witness went beyond what the judge was accustomed to hearing when he said it was ‘very probable’ that the author of the known standard of writing had also written the questioned documents.
The problem was that not all of ‘the known standard’ had been proven to have been written by Amante.
Police Officer Emerald Smith told the court Amante had admitted writing certain documents he seized from her.
When asked if he had made a note of this he said his notebook had been lost during Hurricane Paloma [November 2008]. When asked if his two written statements had been based on his notes, he said yes. But his statements contained no reference at all to this admission. When asked about that, he said he simply remembered it — notwithstanding that this trial is taking place some three years later.
‘In my view it would be unsafe for any jury to find from that evidence that Ms Amante did indeed make the admission attributed to her,’ Justice Henderson concluded.
He then observed: ‘Police officers do not possess any powers of recollection which extend beyond those ordinarily found amongst members of our society.’
The final problem was that Mr. Norwitch was not asked whether all of the known standard was written by the same person or if all of the questioned documents were written by the same person.
‘It may be that his opinion would be different if he had only been presented with those few documents which can be proven to have been written by Ms Amante,’ Justice Henderson said.
For all these reasons, it would be unreasonable to leave a case like this to a jury, the judge concluded.
Since he was sitting as judge and jury, it followed that his obligation was to stop the trial and discharge the defendant.