The Court of Appeal on Wednesday set aside a 15-year sentence imposed by the High Court on manslayer Toneal Omar Walrond for the death of 60-year-old Evans Burnham.
Burnham, formerly of Black Bess, St Peter died at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital on July 8, 2011, following an altercation in which he sustained a fractured skull and other injuries after being hit in the face several times with a piece of wood.
Walrond, of French Village, St Peter was charged with the murder which is said to have occurred sometime between July 1 and July 8, 2011. In February 2016 he pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter.
In June 2017, using a starting point of 20 years, Walrond was sentenced by Madam Justice Michelle Weekes to 15 years in prison. However, after being credited with the five years 334 days spent on remand prior to sentencing, he was ordered incarcerated for another nine years and 21 days.
Through his legal counsel Marlon Gordon who appeared with attorney-at-law Kashka Mottley, the manslayer appealed his sentence on the basis that it was excessive.
In handing down a decision this morning in the No. 1 Supreme Court, Acting Appeal Court judge, Madam Justice Margaret Reifer said while the three-member panel who heard the appeal is of the view that the sentencing judge took into account the relevant principles and facts, “We are nonetheless in agreement with counsel for the appellant, that all the circumstances of the facts of the case were more in line with a starting point of 15 years.”
Outlining reasons for the decision the judge stated that the mitigating features of the case “dominated” the aggravating factors.
She pointed to early guilty pleas which she explained are in the public’s interest since they avoid the need for a trial and save victims, witnesses and often family of the victim, from having to give evidence of “often traumatic events or from reliving the events” and achieving closure.
“The appellant’s early guilty plea, co-operation with the police, sincere expressions of remorse, the acceptance by the court and the parties that there was no evidence of planning or premeditation, the fact that the appellant was not armed with a firearm or intrinsically dangerous weapon, but in the face of aggression by the deceased, armed himself with a piece of wood that he found within reach, provide powerful mitigating factors,” said Justice Refier.
The Crown, she said, did not appear to accept self-defense as a complete defence but it was still a consideration in the sentencing.
In a statement to police Walrond said he went to Burnham’s home to collect some money. Instead of paying him, Burnham, he said: “Take up a chair and hit me”. The two men then fought and it was during that time that Walrond took up a piece of wood and hit Burnham, “round he faces more than once”. Burnham fell and Walrond said he helped him into the house, got ice from the refrigerator and handed it to him. After that, he said he panicked and left the house by car.
“It appears that the Crown accepted on the facts outlined and the analysis of the aggravating and mitigating factors, that the deceased was the aggressor, but their case was, that the force used was disproportionate and excessive,” said the acting Court of Appeal judge who added that the evidence of self-defense even if it was rejected by the jury was still a mitigating factor
“There is no evidence that the trial judge considered self-defense as a mitigating factor even if excessive force was used.
“It is against the backdrop of all the matters reviewed . . . that we are of the opinion that the sentence was excessive and find a starting point of 15 years more acceptable than one of 20 years.
“In view of the premises, the appeal is allowed. The sentence of 15 years imprisonment imposed on the appellant is set aside. The court substitutes a sentence of ten years . . . to run from the date of the original sentence . . . full credit for time spent [on remand] of 2,161 . . . given,” Justice Reifer said as Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson, Court of Appeal judge Madam Justice Kaye Goodridge and Senior Crown Counsel Olivia Davis, who appeared for the Crown listened on.