A travesty of justice
Stabroek News – June 23, 2007
During this week, a 47-year-old former member of the Guyana Defence Force was jailed for ten years on a manslaughter conviction. Some two years ago, he had stabbed and killed an 18-year-old teenage girl, who had repeatedly spurned his advances and who he had earlier been charged with raping. A report published in this newspaper on Thursday said that the mother of Omadela Peters, the dead girl, was so upset, she struggled to read a statement she had written and managed only to call the convict a murderer.
Despite the findings of the court, it would be difficult if not impossible to disagree with Omadela’s mother. The events that unfolded in Justice Jainarine Singh Jnr’s court since the trial of Leroy McKoy began can only be termed a travesty. McKoy had been charged with murder after he stabbed Omadela Peters twice in full view of several witnesses on a public street in her home village Ann’s Grove. It had been reported that the teenager was on her way home on a friend’s bicycle when McKoy approached them and ordered her off. When she refused, he pulled out a knife, stabbed her twice and ran away. He was pursued by villagers, caught and handed over to the police; an open and shut case of murder. There was no need for intelligence or forensics and McKoy was indeed charged with murder and after a preliminary inquiry placed on trial at the High Court.
Two days after his trial began however, in a mindboggling twist, he was allowed to plead guilty to the lesser count of manslaughter. So mindboggling it was that even the judge, who described the crime as “grotesque”, said in open court that he could not understand how the Director of Public Prosecutions had accepted such a manslaughter plea. “This was a brutal killing for which there can be no mitigation. By his own admission, he had a rape matter with her yet he stopped her on the road that day. She was a defenceless teenager,” Justice Singh said.
Because a guilty plea had been accepted from McKoy, he was no longer subject to the judgment of 12 of his peers. The judge could sentence him and he chose to do so after a probation officer would have evaluated the man. Usually, a probation report encourages leniency by the judge as it often indicates that the guilty party is contrite or had committed the crime as a result of mitigating circumstances. Not so in McKoy’s case. On investigating his background, the probation officer learned that McKoy had a record of having a bad temper and had 11 charges of indiscipline brought against him while he was in the army, which was subsequently forced to discharge him. He was noted for being a “bully”, who was greatly feared by women in the community where he lived and had committed “many acts of violence”, no doubt with impunity.
The probation report had painted a picture of a man who did whatever he liked, whenever he liked and had no respect for other people or for the law. In fact, he was such a law onto himself, that even the army, which is noted for being a disciplined institution, had failed to curb the man’s excesses.
McKoy’s lawyer said in mitigation that the man had had a difficult childhood and had problems with his emotions. He asked the court to consider that “some men can take rejection while others cannot”. He claimed that the man had managed to keep out of trouble until the incident with Omadela, but that was a blatant lie. The probation report said the subject had been involved in “numerous physical confrontations in the village” and that the police had confirmed that three other young women had made reports against him.
Justice Jainarine Singh was therefore in a position to send a strong message to McKoy and others like him that this society will not tolerate such behaviour and at the same time to assure the women who had lodged complaints against McKoy and others who feared him that the judicial system was doing all it could to protect them. He failed. Instead of handing the man the maximum 25-year term for manslaughter, Justice Singh gave him just ten years. The sentence was clearly at odds with the judge’s earlier remarks and condemnation of the crime.
A sentence of 25 years would have given the prison community a better chance at rehabilitating McKoy; it would have given McKoy a longer time to think about what he has done and to rue it. As it was, McKoy left the court smiling, probably because he believed that even with a jail term, he had won. And it would seem that he has. This case has not only set a bad precedent, it sends the unfortunate message to men that the justice system would tend to be lenient with them if they killed the women who rejected them. Its message to women is that chauvinism is alive and well, even in the justice system.