The criminal “mayhem” which has “traumatized” Barbados for the past several years “must rapidly come to an end”, High Court Judge Carlisle Greaves today declared.
He issued the stern warning as he sentenced manslayer James Ricardo Alexander Fields to 22 years in prison for fatally shooting Michael Dear on February 18, 2010.
“The scourge of shootings resulting in death in this country has traumatized this nation for several years. Last year, 2019, we suffered a record number of homicides, many by way of the firearm. There are probably dozens of firearm-related cases presently awaiting disposition in these courts.
“This mayhem must rapidly come to an end and those who choose to arm themselves and shoot fellow citizens must, by rapid, speedy trials and stiff sentences by these courts, come to know their time has come.
“They must, by our sentences, receive a strong and clear message: Choose! No guns, freedom; any guns, big prison,” Justice Greaves said as he handed down his ruling in the No. 3 Supreme Court this afternoon during a Zoom hearing.
Back in February, 12 jurors found Fields, formerly of Bank Hall Main Road, St Michael, not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter.
Justice Greaves in a summary of the case said Fields, who was 18 years old at the time of the incident, was selling drugs under a hut in the Storey Gap, Codrington Hill, St Michael neighbourhood. He sold Dear two cocaine rocks but the dissatisfied customer demanded his money back.
A scuffle ensued between the two, with Dear charging at the convicted man who pushed him to the ground. Dear recovered and rushed at Field with his fist, but the teenager drew a firearm and shot Dear dead before fleeing. He was arrested several months later in St Thomas.
Justice Greaves said this case was “another unnecessary, unreasonable killing” with a firearm.
“The victim was a drug addict in his elder years. In his stupor and [dissatisfaction] with the product he received, he confronted the young drug dealer . . . unarmed, to demand return of his currency. The accused had gained the upper hand, he had made the sale and had the money in hand.
“He could have avoided him, evaded him, pushed him down again or choose every other option than to shoot him. But instead, like some kind of Quick Draw McGraw, he drew and shot the man dead with an unlawful firearm,” he said.
The High Court judge explained that the maximum penalty for such a crime was life imprisonment while the penalty for the use of a firearm ranged anywhere between seven to 15 years.
“I find this was a manslaughter, closer to murder . . . . On the other hand, it is arguable that there was some element of provocation . . . . For those reasons, I consider 20 years imprisonment to be an appropriate starting point,” he explained before taking two aggravating factors into consideration.
The first was the drug dealing enterprise which led to Dear’s death.
“It cannot be denied that many shootings and killings in our society are driven by the drug dealing scourge. In my opinion, it is necessary to treat these cases with the most serious sentences when they are proved,” Justice Greaves said.
The second aggravating factor was the fact the illegal gun was not recovered, raising the possibility that “it may remain available for future use”.
The judge noted that Fields received the benefit of a full trial and therefore there was no need for a one third discount for a guilty plea.
“Taking those aggravating factors I have identified into consideration, I consider an uplift to 25 years imprisonment appropriate,” he said.
Age was another factor which the Judge considered.
“I must still recognize that it is not the old men who are shooting up our communities, it is the young men, many of whom are in the same age group of the accused.”
Making reference to a pre-sentencing report which stated that Fields had attended one of the two top secondary schools in the country and attained several certificates, he said that despite all the young man’s “talents, academics, charisma and intelligence”, he made choices to sell and use hard drugs and carry an illegal firearm.
Given that Fields was assessed as being at high risk of re-offending, Justice Greaves said, “I am of the view the public needs to be protected from him.”
He reduced the sentence to 22 years in light of the mitigating factors of the case and the fact Fields did suffer “some provocation” from the victim.
The convict was also credited for the six years he had already spent on remand, leaving him with 16 more years to serve at Dodds.
That sentence took effect from May 15, 2020 given the delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the time it took to compile his pre-sentencing report.