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Mar 14, 2014

Court of Appeal orders a retrial for Viola Pook accused of setting husband on fire


Viola Pook

But earlier today, a number of decisions were handed down by the Court of Appeal to conclude its first session for this year. It ended with good news for fifty-six year old Viola Pook, who was initially convicted and sentenced to life prison back in July 2011 for the murder of her common-law-husband Orlando Vasquez. The court ordered that Pook is to stand trial for a second time after it declared her conviction null and void.  Vasquez was set on fire inside his home in Rancho Dolores Village on New Year’s Eve in 2008.  In the aftermath of the grisly incident, police were summoned to the residence where Vasquez was discovered lying face up inside the singed kitchen.  Over ninety percent of his body was badly burned.  He was rushed to the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital where he succumbed to his injuries. Pook case attracted public attention when Nation of Islam Leader, Minister Louis Farrakhan, singled out her case because she is believed to have been a victim of domestic abuse. But back in 2011, Justice Herbert Lord handed down an initial decision which was successfully challenged by Senior Counsel Simeon Sampson at the appellate level.  Sampson argued that the investigating officer, Sergeant Aaron Zuniga, failed to satisfy the judge prior to admitting into evidence a verbal confession made by Pook.  While Sampson made a case for an acquittal, he says he’s satisfied that Pook will be retried in the Supreme Court.


Simeon Sampson, Attorney for Viola Pook

Simeon Sampson

“The matter was decided this morning you know.  We argued that about six months ago.  Viola Pook came to me on appeal.  She was defended in the first instance by another attorney.  So then came the Court of Appeal hearing and I argued that the evidence against Viola Pook was one incriminating sentence, “Dah me ketch ahn fyah.”  No other evidence.  And Sergeant Zuniga, the investigating officer, arriving upon the scene that day when the [incident occurred] saw the husband of Pook writhing in ninety percent burns and so on and so forth.  This lady said absolutely nothing and when Sergeant Zuniga went to her, after doing his investigation and asked her, “Dah weh happen?”  Well the lady said, according to her, she remained silent.  But Sergeant Zuniga said that she blurted out, “Dah me ketch ahn fyah.”  Situation like those trigger principles of law whether she was warned because I argued that the policeman ought to have cautioned her because he was reasonably on the evidence, he was investigating and when he approached her, “Dah weh happen?”  That was an accusatorial question and without any caution, as he ought to have done, I argued that the judge ought to have excluded that statement, “Da me ketch ahn fyah.”  Absent that statement there would have been no evidence at all, at all, at all for the judge to direct the jury to consider her as the person who burned her husband.  But another point of law which is very important.  The judge went on to give the jury a funny, funny, funny direction on identification.  Nobody identified the perpetrator of the person who burnt this person and the judge unfortunately went on to give a direction on identification evidence.  Viola Pook was never identified as the perpetrator and I think that is what carried the day for Viola Pook and the Court of Appeal said, well look she, consequentially, did not get a fair trial and they quashed the conviction, set aside the sentence of life and they ordered a retrial.”

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