There was silence as the case number was called. Eugene St Romain’s footsteps barely made a sound as he came up from the prisoner’s dock. He still looked like he did seven years ago, save for the grey in his hair and on his face. One by one his seven family members filed into the courtroom, taking a seat in the public gallery. A flat screen television, an unusual fixture to the court, sat to the judge’s right.
It was Monday January 24. Martinus Francois appeared for the defendant. Director of Public Prosecutions Victoria Charles-Clarke along with Crown Counsel Tina Mensah appeared for the State. Justice Kenneth Benjamin presided.
It was to be the final hearing of this aggravated murder case from 2002. Her death shocked the nation. Verlinda Joseph left her Saltibus home about 7:20am on December 2, 2002 to have her school uniform adjusted by a nearby seamstress. That was the last time she was seen alive. Later that day her father Eugene St Romain discovered her half-naked, brutalized body less than a quarter of a mile from their home.
Pathologist Dr Stephen King confirmed the 12-year-old had been sexually assaulted, her neck broken and a chemical poured down her throat after she died. The public was outraged. There were angry public demonstrations, with speaker after speaker demanding police action.
St Romain was arrested and charged in 2004 with Verlinda’s murder. He has since been at the Bordelais Correctional Facility. After much back and forth by both the prosecution and defense, which the STAR has covered extensively, Eugene St Romain was finally set to have his case tried on January 24, 2011. The State was finally ready to prosecute and had gone to great lengths to secure its seven overseas witnesses.
In an interview with the STAR on December 3, 2010, Francois revealed he intended to file a Constitutional motion to have St Romain’s case dismissed.
On Monday, Francois told the court his submissions are scheduled to be heard at the Civil High Court on Thursday January 27. Since the constitutional court supersedes the criminal court, the criminal matter has to be suspended pending a decision on the constitutional motion.
While Francois was explaining his position to the court, a woman, who sat unnoticed to the back of the court, sprung up in frustration.
“Enough is enough!” she shouted. “I have been going through this for too long!”
The court was stunned. Very few dared to speak in open court out of turn for fear of reprisal. St Romain turned around to see what was happening in the public gallery. His face fell.
The woman, wearing a white blouse and jeans, continued speaking even louder as the court officers tried to quiet her down, “For seven years my son is innocent and this has been going on too long. Enough is enough! I cannot take it again!” she wailed.
The woman was Cocelia St Romain, Eugene St Romain’s mother. Cocelia had to be physically removed from the courtroom by two police officers: a male sergeant and a woman police constable. Benjamin stood the matter down so order could be restored.
After the matter resumed, Justice Benjamin ordered Francois to return to court on Monday January 31 to report on the status of the matter before the constitutional court
and he adjourned the matter.
The STAR caught up with members of the St Romain family after court. They were seated to the back of the High Court building under the shade of a tree. Mother Cocelia was too infuriated to speak and introduced this reporter to her daughter, Anna Steven, Eugene’s sister.
Steven was emotionally exhausted but still granted the STAR an interview. She did not quite understand what happened in court on Monday. As far as she knew, the judge said on the last occasion the case was finally going to be heard.
“To me it’s a long drag,” she admitted. She continued, “It’s been seven years now. To me, there is no justice. We’ve been leaving work to come to court for the past seven years. You come to court and it’s a waste of time, a waste of day. Nobody is prepared for the case. Every time we come, they make us believe it’s the end but then it’s always something else.”
As far as Steven is concerned, if there is evidence convicting her brother then let the
case be heard. She has had enough with excuses and delays.
She had a message for the authorities: “If you all have proof and you know it was him, what is taking so long? Why are there so many problems? It is time you finalize this thing. Put an end to it. If you have evidence, it should not take you seven years to get justice. So many cases have come and finished and my brother’s own is just stagnant.”
Steven went on to tell this reporter from the beginning she never thought her brother was guilty. She cannot understand why her brother was the only one arrested and charged
with her niece’s death. At the time of her death, there were at least three cases of sexual molestation pending in court where Verlinda was the complainant.
Steven says all she wants is the case to be heard so her brother’s name will be cleared and he can return home.
Said Steven: “Knowing that your family member is in prison accused of killing his daughter is hard. Over the years we have learned the law is funny and some people go to jail even if they are innocent. The system does not always work. It has been a merry-go-round for us and it seems we cannot get off. We just want peace of mind. No matter the outcome, we just want the case to be heard. Stop making the families suffer.”
The St Romain family says they were dumbfounded when Eugene was arrested in 2004 in connection with Verlinda’s murder.
Steven gave the STAR a bit of insight into her brother’s personality. “He doesn’t smoke. He doesn’t drink. He doesn’t take drugs. Verlinda was his only daughter. I don’t think
he was capable of doing such a hideous crime to her.”
Cocelia St Romain, the mother of six children, four boys and two girls, said she is confident that she raised them to be decent human beings. And it is her confidence in her son’s innocence that gave her the strength to fight for his case to progress. She was
the one who contacted Francois in 2009 to have him file the first constitutional motion in the civil court to get Eugene St Romain a trial date.