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A murder with a happy ending, if there ever was one

Crimes that Rocked the Nation

Sybil E Hibbert

Sunday, July 29, 2012    

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THURSDAY, March 29, 2012, I received a heart-warming telephone call. It came from someone I like to refer to as one of my personal success stories. Unfortunately, I can only identify him as 'HS' in order to protect his identity. You'll see why soon.

HS had come to my home all the way from London, accompanied by his wife, to pay my husband Isadore 'Dick' Hibbert and myself a surprise visit. I was on the road at the time.

"Mom," he shouted excitedly over the phone, "where in the world are you?" Not waiting for a reply, he just rushed into the joy he felt to be with "dad" again and he gushed on and on.

Well, all of the above took my mind back to the year 1970, and recollections of a 13-year-old boy peeping through the rails of the dock in the No 1 Home Circuit Court. He appeared anxious and extremely frightened.

I was just in time to hear Senior Crown Counsel Margaret Forte (now deceased), at the time wife of the now retired president of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice Ian 'Billy' Forte, requesting the registrar to read the indictment to the foreman and members of the jury of 12. The indictment charged this 13-year-old boy, now standing in the dock, with the offence of murder.

I looked towards the bench and observed the trial judge, Justice Hercules, sitting there, looking quite composed. On the defence side was Legal Aid counsel Stanley Beresford, one of the elderly and well-respected members of the legal profession. Counsel for the Crown began opening the case for the prosecution.

I wondered why this juvenile was being tried in Court 1 for murder, when just the previous week Chief Justice Sir Herbert Duffus, in a similar case, accepted a plea of guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter and that juvenile had gone home in the custody of his parents.

I sent a note to the trial judge. He read it, adjourned the court for 10 minutes, and went to his chambers where I went to see him. I raised the point about what had taken place in the case before Chief Justice Duffus. He instructed me to have words with counsel on both sides, to the effect that he was willing to entertain a plea of guilty to the charge of manslaughter. They spoke.

The judge returned to the courtroom on the resumption. Addressing the jury, he said: "Mr Foreman and members of the jury, we are about to take the adjournment now. Please be good enough to return at 2:00 o'clock when a certain course will be taken."

The Court adjourned at 11:20 am.

Here, let me pause to explain, for the benefit of those who might not understand the workings of the Court, that it is the job of a competent court reporter to help guide the judge if the court reporter thinks he is making a mistake or has omitted to tell the jury, in the course of his/her summing up, certain pertinent points in relation to law and/or facts of the instant case, among other things.

At age 13, it was rare, but not unusual, to see such an accused before a jury of 12 on the capital charge. Negotiations usually take place and the Crown would offer the other side the opportunity to enter a plea to the lesser count.

Because of negligence and/or failure to take the necessary steps in favour of an accused person, one sometimes sees verdicts adverse to such an accused. In my view, the instant case seemed to be pointing to what I considered to be a possible failure by the defence lawyer to adequately take advantage of the opportunity for the juvenile to enter a plea to the lesser count of manslaughter.

Hence my intervention.

As the 13-year-old was being escorted out of court, I was able to get a good look at him for the first time. It was a pathetic sight!

He was clad in a pair of khaki shorts, one leg cut off higher than the other. It was torn. The matching shirt was dirty and without buttons. Sores were visible all over his body. The police, it was clear, would not touch him. A baton was used to prod him along.

The juvenile kept looking around him; more curious now than frightened. He was limping as he was guided downstairs to the cell block. And to add to his woes, he had, what I would describe as "an unfortunate face".

I followed this unusual procession. My acuity, in those days, knew no bounds. The Legal Aid counsel was nowhere in sight.

Inside the holding area, I spoke to the juvenile, advising him of the procedure on the resumption of Court. He kept nodding; his mouth wide open. I thought he hardly understood, but I kept at it. Court resumed at 2:00 o'clock.

Crown Counsel Forte advised the judge that she was willing to accept a plea of guilty with respect to the lesser count of manslaughter. The indictment was read.

The facts of the case were, as presented by the Crown, that about 11:00 o'clock on the morning in question, the juvenile -- a resident of Trench Town, known today as an inner city -- was among a group of boys sitting on one of the street corners. It was a Saturday morning. One of the boys had a knife with which he was peeling an orange. A girl of similar age as HS was passing. One of the boys -- not HS -- called out "psst!"

The young lady turned and said: "You think I want any dutty bwoy?"

One of the boys -- not HS -- picked up a small stone and threw it at the young lady. It was not established if the stone found its mark but on her way back she walked up to HS and boxed him across the face.

The boy with the knife said: "Whah! You mek de gal box you? Hol' dis (handing the juvenile the knife).

That was when things got out of hand. HS was reported to have grabbed the knife, and with one desperate move, plunged it into the young girl's chest, ending her life instantly.

So, HS was, at that stage, called upon to enter his plea and to the question, whether or not he was guilty of manslaughter, he pleaded "guilty".

His antecedents were read to the Court by a police sergeant. They revealed that his mother, who had, at last count, about six other children, had "given away" this 13-year-old to a man who worked at the wharf. His attendance at school was minimal and most important, neither the mother nor the so-called adopted father could be located.

The judge ordered a Probation Officer's Report. One week later, the Court heard from the probation officer whose report buttressed the earlier report presented by the police.

Another adjournment was taken. The trial judge summoned counsel on both sides. Then he sent his orderly to call me to his chambers.

He was having some concern, he told me, because as in the case in Court 1, the previous week, he was not able to put this juvenile on probation. This, I quite understood. He was thinking, said he, of sending him to Copse -- the approved school in Hanover. What did I think?

I didn't like that at all. Couldn't he be sent to the Stony Hill Approved School where I could follow up on his progress? That was possible, he said.

So Court resumed and the order was made, that HS be detained at Her Majesty's pleasure to spend the next five years at the Stony Hill Approved School in St Andrew. Before he was led away, I gave him a piece of paper containing my name and address for him to contact me if he needed anything.

Within three days, the mail came. The letter, which I still have, began: "Dear Mrs Heberts, This is HS. I need sweetie, tootpase, candy, bisket," and so on. He also asked for a towel and toothbrush and ended with "your son, HS".

My husband and I were moved by this letter. We drove to Brooks Shoppers' Fair on Washington Boulevard and bought £5 of goodies and the items requested by HS. I added a green velvet towel. We drove to the Approved School at Stony Hill.

First, the superintendent in charge was shocked. He said in all his years there, which were many, it was the first time someone, other than parents had taken an interest in any of the young wards.

HS was summoned. He came, not running, but flying. Others came charging behind him as he shouted "mommy! daddy!" The superintendent took out the candy and other goodies from the package and handed them to HS. Next thing he was handing out and sharing everything as if he were Santa Claus, all the time grinning from ear to ear.

It was a beautiful picture. The boy appeared so happy, due to that small token.

As the years passed, we would get the permission of the superintendent to have HS with us at Easter and Christmastime. He interacted with our three children, especially the two boys. It was a joy to have him with us.

I heard later that it was the talk in the community that I had a son at an approved school. What a life!

Five years had passed. I was not at home when the probation officer visited. He left a message with my next door neighbour: "Tell Mrs Hibbert, her son at the Stony Hill Approved School will be home tomorrow." He asked that I have someone present to receive him.

I was at my office -- Verbatim Services Ltd -- at 11 Duke Street in Kingston when my secretary informed me that a prison warder was there to see me. The warder had with him a young man. In front of me was HS, now aged 18 and he was being delivered to the only "mother" he knew, and that was me.

I had to calm myself. I signed for "HS" and turned him over to my secretary, who took care of his immediate needs -- food, something to drink, and a couch in an adjoining office, where he could rest comfortably.

Then I called my good friend, the late Anthony Spaulding, QC, minister of housing in the then Michael Manley-led Administration, and sought his help. He did not hesitate. He sent a driver for HS and within a few days, HS was put in uniform and given the job of messenger at the ministry. HS was also given a motorbike to carry out his duties and housing was provided for him.

About a year later, a Jamaican nurse residing in England visited Jamaica. HS turned up at the office, accompanied by this nurse, and announced that they had become man and wife and that they would be leaving for London soon. What a turn of events!

Imagine my joy over my decision to intervene on that fateful day when HS was virtually headed for the gallows. For it is my sincere belief that there are, in the system, many young people in Jamaica -- even today -- who if given a chance will take hold of the lifeline extended to them and pull themselves out of the quagmire of criminality -- that web in which many of them are enslaved.

We know there are others who will never change, but that, in and by itself, should not cause us to give up the fight.

The best part of this story is the fact that on Nelson Mandela's elevation to the presidency of South Africa, 'our son' HS had the honour and distinction of being part of a band that played during Mandela's installation ceremony.

Calling from South Africa at the time, HS told me:

"Mom, this place is so beautiful; it must be where God lives. I hope one day I can bring you and dad here so you can see it for yourselves."

HS now resides in London with his wife and three children. He studied law, but is now engaged in the business of music and its many facets.

That phone call on March 29 meant a whole lot to me and my husband. Indeed, it gladdened our hearts. The 13-year-old boy from Trench Town never forgot kindness. He came home to see his 'parents'. And he reminded me, he still has that "green velvet towel".

Next week: A murder with a different twist

Sybil E Hibbert is a veteran journalist and retired court reporting specialist. She is also the wife of Retired ACP Isadore 'Dick' Hibbert, rated as one of the leading detectives of his time. Send your comments to allend@jamaicaobserver.com

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