Teen allegedly behind dorm fire represented by Guyanese attorney, sues prosecutor’s office

Photo via Getty Images
Photo via Getty Images

A Guyanese attorney representing the teenager accused of deliberately setting fire to an indigenous jungle school dormitory killing 20 fellow students in May plans to sue the state prosecutor’s office for malicious detention contending that she is being made a scapegoat for administrative and safety lapses at the school.

Dexter Todd said this week that he has already written to chief prosecutor Shalimar Ali-Hack demanding that she withdraws the 20 indictments against the teenager as there is absolutely no evidence that she is responsible for starting the fire at the Mahdia boarding school compound in late May. The accused has already been charged and remanded to a juvenile detention center on 20 capital charges. No date has been fixed for the start of a preliminary hearing but the near appearance is set for early September.

In his missive to the prosecutor’s office, Todd argued no conviction can be obtained with the flimsy evidence that police gathered forming the basis of the charges as no single witness or group of witnesses can place his client at the scene of the late night fire at the southwestern jungle and mountain community near Brazil. He is basing his demands for a withdrawal of all 20 charges on evidence the state has provided to the defense in the mandatory discovery process among attorneys.

The 19 girls and a five-year-old boy died after being trapped in the heavily grilled up dorm for students from outlying districts. The iron grills and locked doors were in place despite recommendations from the fire department that this practice should be abandoned. Officials say teh grills and other security measures are needed to prevent the young girls from escaping to hang out with much older men in the gold mining district.

“None of the witnesses placed our client in the area in which the fire started, none of them stated that they saw her light the fire, none of them stated that she accepted responsibility for the fire, none of them said they saw her walking or running from the area where the fire allegedly started prior to the great blaze,” he said of the evidence the state plans to present to a court.”

The prosecutor’s office is yet to reply to Todd’s letter, but the attorney has already said that he will most likely take the matter to the appeals court for a verdict as the girl is languishing in a detention facility in the city. He also points out that the state has no forensic evidence to support its case.

 “It is a great injustice to have this innocent 15-year-old young lady in a holding center for an offense in which the prosecution has no likelihood of success. The next date set for this matter is September 1, 2023, at 9 am before the Mahdia Magistrates Court. We do hope that you could request and review this file before this date.”

Since the fire, authorities have offered the families about $25,000 each as compensation for their loss, an amount that has been widely criticized by opposition parties and rights groups as families were made to sign documents agreeing that the payments are a full and final settlement of the issue. Some parents have complained to these groups and have asked for representation.

“Please note that should this charge not be withdrawn against our client and it goes the full length, we will be forced to institute civil and constitutional proceedings against the office of the director of public prosecutions and the state, seeking certain order, declaration, and substantial damages,” Todd said.