Last week Monday, November 19, Justice Thomas W. R. Astaphan handed down a sentence against John Jones of eleven (11) years in prison for manslaughter. The sentence met the ire of many who first challenged and questioned the change of the charge from murder to manslaughter, both charges carrying sentences up to life.
The Police on March 3, 2012 had revealed that they were carrying out investigations into the cause of death of a 54 year-old female resident where they found her head at her home in Brade’s. After calling it a ‘suspicious death’, on March 6, 2012, they stated they had charged John Jones with Nolda Fenton’s murder.
That Saturday morning, March 3, Montserrat awoke to the news that Nolda Fenton of Brades was found dead reportedly with her throat slashed.
Jones had been on remand in prison since his arrest and appeared for trial for the murder of his girlfriend Anolda Fenton in March. He pleaded not guilty to murder but pleaded guilty to manslaughter. The crown prosecution accepted his plea of guilty to manslaughter, upon which Jones received the sentence of what nearly everyone referred to as, “only eleven years?”
The newspaper first received the information that the murder charge had been reduced to manslaughter, and one hour later, the ire of several persons that the verdict of guilty was met with a sentence of eleven years, which they all understand he might serve only half of that.
Questions have been flying with comments that this is ‘not’ justice and accusations were laid against the Director of Prosecution, of one kind or another.
This had followed on the news that Sgt. Ottley Laborde of the Royal Montserrat Police Service (RMPS) who faced charges of wounding, assault occasioning bodily harm, disorderly conduct and threatening language walked away when Judge Astaphan upheld a defence submission of ‘no case to answer’.
Miss Kathy-Ann Pyke is the first Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) in Montserrat and having come under fire for the outcome of these cases explained to me her reaction to the questions popularly asked on the matter.
“First of all,” she said, “I can tell you that the murder case being reduced to manslaughter is a common occurrence, it happens everywhere in the world it is nothing unusual.”
Other legal authorities agree, especially when she says, “Unfortunately people in Montserrat because it happens so infrequently, they may tend to look at it a certain way, but it is a perfectly acceptable course of action.”
She explains: “the basis for doing so must always be that the charge of manslaughter or any alternative which is accepted by the prosecution, must be available on the facts. In other words, it is not automatic that an accused would be convicted of manslaughter, but that at least there is evidence, which would give rise at least to manslaughter.” She added, “In the course of making the decision on whether to accept such an offer or accept such a plea…first establish that manslaughter is available and in this case manslaughter was available.”
Miss Pyke went on to explain that on the basis of provocation, “I then proceeded to balance the public interest…prosecutors are ministers of justice,” she said. “We are not to struggle for a conviction or fight for a conviction when we conduct out the trials. We must bear in mind the rights and the interest of the accused, so we must not do anything, hide anything…”
Among other points of explanation it was not difficult to discern that she believed her actions were the best available to ensure that after looking at the possible defenses available to the accused, he did not go free having pleading ‘not guilty’ to murder and offered a plea of guilty to manslaughter.
Miss Pyke would not comment on the sentence which left so many concerned, but hinted that sentencing is a matter for the judge who would normally take all the circumstances surrounding the case before coming to his sentence.
The DPP would say very little on the Laborde trial but suggested that she had an airtight case, which was presented to the jury, but at the end the judge can rule at any time as he sees fit, in spite of any objections her office might raise.
The Police sergeant according to a news report, walked away free, after being suspended from his duties pending the trial on two charges against him, assault causing bodily harm and grievous bodily harm. The charges stemmed from an incident involving a police operation in Drummonds last December. He waits to hear if or when he is to resume duty, having walked away a free man on Friday November 9.
Acting Commissioner of Police Bradley Siddell said he would need to examine the details of Laborde’s suspension before making a decision on reinstatement into the service. Siddell said he would bring him back to duty failing any other potential issues that will prevent him from doing that. He noted that there are “two other matters still pending, one is disciplinary hearing that’s scheduled for (I believe) March, 2013, on some Police Act charges…then there is also a summary matter before the court of appeal,” which came out of the Magistrate’s court.
The foregoing notwithstanding, the Ag COP said: “…but if any officer whether this particular officer is suspended from duty for a particular purpose in relation to judicial process and they have either been cleared of that accusation or charge or allegation, then it’s my duty to get them back to work.”
Also, it has been pointed out to us that none of the foregoing circumstances prevent the victims in the dismissed charges from bringing civil action against the sergeant.