The man who gunned down another in the busy food court at Sheraton Mall in 2019 was given a life sentence with the possibility of release only after he spends another 41 years behind bars.
And along with Hakeem Roberto Stuart’s sentence on Friday came a stern warning from Justice Carlisle Greaves to perpetrators of gun crimes bent on terrorising the country, that they will be given “no further opportunity” to carry out “mayhem across our society” once they are caught and convicted by the law courts.
The High Court judge first imposed the life sentence with an order that Stuart must serve a minimum term of 45 years behind bars for the brazen daylight killing of Damian Trotman on March 21, 2019. However, the killer’s minimum jail time was reduced to 41 years after the judge deducted the four years he had already spent on remand at Dodds.
Last November, a jury had found Stuart, 24, of Shelbourne Gap, St Lawrence, Christ Church, guilty of the deadly shooting after a month-long trial.
At his sentencing in the No. 3 Supreme Court on Friday, the convicted murderer told the court: “I am sorry for what happen to the deceased man. I maintain my innocence . . . .”
However, Justice Greaves said his actions had demonstrated “an arrogance and brutality that this country must not tolerate; an arrogance and brutality that these courts, by their sentence, must seek to eliminate”.
The sentence imposed on him, therefore, the judge said was “a message to him and his ilk who are terrorising this community that when they are caught and convicted their time, too, has come to an end”.
“The sentence in my view should be such that you should have no further opportunity to practise this mayhem across our society,” the judge said, after the Director of Public Prosecutions Donna Babb-Agard K.C. and Acting Senior Counsel Romario Straker urged the court to impose a life sentence with a minimum of 40 years in prison on Trotman.
In his judgment, Justice Greaves said Stuart’s actions not only severely impacted the victim’s family, but society at large.
“The impact on society by the acts of the now convicted man in broad daylight, in the busiest and biggest shopping mall in Barbados, in the presence of the shopping public, in the glare of the cameras and reporters of the media and even in the hearing and presence of the blind, must drive a fear . . . into the minds of . . . the public at large,” the judge said, referring to the fact that the media had been interviewing members of the disabled community in the food court when the fatal shooting occurred.
“It is as if, by his acts, he was saying ‘you can run but can’t hide. Wherever you be, I will be there. You may not see me but I will see you and then it will be too late because I will get you dead’.”
Justice Greaves said it was his view that the only appropriate sentence in these circumstances was life in prison.
“There are no mitigating circumstances for the commission of the offence, no motive is given, no reason is given. Just a cold-blooded, arrogant exercise of sheer will [and] force, regardless of the feelings and presence of others,” he said.
Greaves considered as an aggravating factor the manner in which Stuart carried out the crime which he described as an execution.
“ . . . . He immaculately dressed himself in scarlet attire from foot to neck and attended the Sheraton Centre and there he shot a man three times after having disguised himself by changing his red shirt into a white shirt and by covering his head with a cap pulled down over his face.
“ . . . . His intent to kill the victim was so determined and so clear that despite all the people . . . he entered into that crowd with his disguise and pumped the bullets into the victim and even after the victim had been felled . . . put himself in a position over him and delivered further shots in him. As I have said before, his message was clear . . .
“This is a powerful, aggravating message to all of society, of the lengths to which a person such as the [convict] will go to commit a crime as this. But it doesn’t even stop there.
The message is not only to those he considered to have crossed him . . . but it is also one to those he leads – particularly in a society at this time that is drowning under the strain of firearm offenders and particularly those who are prepared to murder,” Justice Greaves said.
He made that statement, he said, based on the fact that according to a pre-sentencing report, Stuart had “‘a lot of influence over his peers’”.
“Just digest that for a moment. A man in a position not only to carry out assaults such as this, but to loose his army on members of this nation. Such a man, in my opinion, ought to be visited with a whole-life sentence without eligibility for release.
“The only mitigating factor, in this case, is that he had no previous convictions, but that is immediately blown away by the aggravating factor that he committed this offence while he was on bail for another charge of murder . . . ,” said Greaves as he raised concern that, based on the facts of the case, the firearm used was never recovered.
The High Court judge pointed out, however, that life sentences had “not been very favourable” with modern courts.
“The thinking today is that it seems, regardless of how terrible a defendant or convicted man may be or his crime may be, there should be no locking up with throwing away the key.
“So, as a result, we moved down from the death penalty to life in prison. And then we moved down from life in prison . . . to determining some tariff within which the defendant should be given the opportunity to return to society.
“I think to establish a whole-life sentence today is necessary to establish that there is no reasonable prospect for the rehabilitation of the offender even though the victim gets no chance to live again,” he added as a masked Stuart listened, showing no noticeable reaction.
Stuart was represented by attorneys-at-law Andrew Pilgrim K.C., Sian Lange and Kamisha Benjamin. [email protected]