Barbados’ judicial system forgot Winston Adolphus Agard in prison for almost a decade.
But after languishing on remand at Her Majesty’s Prison, Dodds, without trial, he was allowed to go home today after pleading guilty to the charge first brought against him in March 2009.
“I feel good! I feel good! I feel good!” was the declaration from the 50-year-old man who gave his last address as 3rd Avenue, Licorish Village, St Michael.
Agard got his day in the No. 2 Supreme Court this morning due to the actions of Prison Officer Floyd Downes who informed court officials and Justice Randall Worrell that the now convicted man “fell through the cracks” and had not been before a judicial officer since 2012.
Today Agard pleaded guilty to stealing a bag and contents including $1,000 cash belonging to Connie Young on March 27, 2009. The total value was BDS$9,230. He had been arrested months later and remanded in January 2010.
“This is madness! That a man is sitting in prison for more than the maximum sentence and but for Mr Downes he would not get here today. Something is seriously wrong with the system, seriously wrong . . . it is ridiculous,” said attorney-at-law Angella Mitchell-Gittens, who took on Agard’s case pro bono as a friend of the court.
“This is an example of how people without [legal] counsel get lost in the system . . . . The judicial system owes a debt of gratitude to Mr Downes because had it not been for astute persons like Mr Downes, Mr Agard might very well have been there [Dodds] for 31 years,” the attorney stated.
In an impassioned plea, she further argued that Agard be allowed to walk out of the Whitepark Road Supreme Court, a complex which he visited for the first time today, as he had spent more time in prison than the maximum penalty for his crime. She went on to say that when the facts and circumstances of Agard’s crime were examined and the guilty plea taken into consideration it was highly unlikely that he would have spent ten years in prison.
“He has already served his time. In fact, the State owes him time . . . .Something needs to be done because he told me this morning ‘I am not the only one in my position. There are several others up there like me’. And without an attorney, there is no vehicle for you [the prisoner] to get before a judge and without somebody like Mr Downes who would come and say there is this person up there . . . people are going to be lost in prison forever.
“Something needs to be done, we are operating in a very dangerous system, where we are losing people in prison,” the lawyer said adding that, “the scary part of it is that this is not the exception, he is not the exception”.
Justice Worrell also lauded the prison warden, who has been in the service for 27 years, for his work in alerting the court of Agard’s predicament. The judge revealed that Downes had been indicating from time to time [that others wanted to plead guilty] and “in fact up to this morning had a list of inmates who want to plead guilty”.
Principal Crown Counsel Alliston Seale also gave Downes his kudos.
“I maintain that he is one of the best prison officers in Barbados and although it was not his function, it is the lost of Mr Downes for a few years [from working the court] that, certainly things started to fall down because Downes was the link between the Magistrates’ Court, the prison, the High Court . . . everything,” Seale stated even as he described Agard’s predicament as an “injustice”.
The facts revealed by Seale showed that Young went to The Woods located at Golf Club Road, Christ Church on March 27, 2009 where she made a short stop, leaving her bag in her vehicle on the seat and the windows down. When she returned it had disappeared and the matter was reported to police. She got a call from a man sometime later informing her that he had found the bag in the bush with her contact information. Police had an occasion to speak to Agard on January 7, 2010, and he admitted to the crime. He said he purchased clothes and food with the money and threw the bag away.
He also saw Young at the station and told her: “Sorry for your loss. I was down at the time, I was in a bad position.”
Today from the docks Agard, who has 11 convictions including for theft of newspapers and money, again apologised.
“I am sorry to put myself through this trouble. I will do my best not to put myself through this again,” he said.
Asked by Justice Worrell whether he had a drug problem which was the catalyst for these petty crimes, Agard answered: “No Sir. That is just lawlessness.”
The judge ordered a probation report into his life before releasing him on his own recognisance and after signing the necessary documents Agard walked out of the court with a smile although hiding his face at times. He is to return to court in July for a formal sentencing.