THE question that baffled everyone was what could have moved the teenaged gardener of the 59-year-old widow of a Bank of Jamaica governor to murder her?
Neither could anyone have expected that what seemed like an ordinary case of murder, would have become a landmark case affecting several other teens similarly charged for murder.
The partially decomposed body of Leila Brown, widow of G Arthur Brown, the storied former governor of the Jamaican central bank, was found in her home in upscale Stony Hill on March 21, 1994. The body, reportedly, had several stab wounds and her BMW motor car was missing from the garage.
Brown's 17-year-old gardener and handyman, Kurt Mollison, of 54 Anthurium Avenue, Eltham Park, St Catherine, was accosted in Bog Walk driving the BMW.
Police investigations led to his arrest and a charge of capital murder being proffered against him. A component set, also belonging to the deceased, was found at a home in Spanish Town in the parish. A Home Circuit Court jury was later told by a witness that Mollison had taken the music system there.
Paula Llewellyn, then deputy director of public prosecutions, now QC and director of public prosecutions (DPP), assisted by Carol Edwards, Crown counsel, marshalled the evidence for the Crown at Mollison's trial. He was defended by attorney-at-law Terrence Williams (now head of INDECOM). Justice Langrin (later Judge of Appeal, deceased) and an all-female jury heard evidence in the case.
Relying on circumstantial evidence, the Crown's case was that the accused murdered his employer on March 16, 1994 in the course of a robbery, then drove away her BMW motor car.
On April 21, 1997, the jury convicted Mollison for the capital murder of Brown, but sentencing was put off to determine the question of age at the time of the commission of the offence, as capital murder attracts the death penalty.
On April 25, 1997, the judge sentenced Mollison, then aged 19, underSection 29 (1) of the Juveniles Act 1951 as amended, to be detained during the Governor General's pleasure.
Section 29(1) reads as follows:-
"Sentence of death shall not be pronounced on or recorded against a person convicted of an offence if it appears to the court that at the time when the offence was committed he was under the age of eighteen years, but in place thereof the court shall sentence him to be detained during Her Majesty's pleasure, and, if so sentenced, he shall, notwithstanding anything in the other provisions of this Law, be liable to be detained in such place (including, save in the case of a child, an adult correctional centre) and under such conditions as the minister may direct, and while so detained shall be deemed to be in legal custody."
The United Kingdom Privy Council subsequently upheld the majority decision of the Court of Appeal, which, in essence, said was that it was unconstitutional to detain juveniles convicted for murder at the Governor General's pleasure.
Mollison was, in the final result — on the ruling of the Privy Council — sentenced to "detention during the court's pleasure" and that his release "be determined by the court in accordance with Section 29(4) of the Juvenile Act 1951 as modified" in accordance with the opinion of the board.
Earlier in the trial, testimony was given by Marjorie Robinson, manager of a supermarket, that she saw the deceased at the supermarket on March 16, 1994. On March 22, 1994, Robinson said, she went to the home of the deceased and noticed that Brown was wearing the same clothes she had on when she last saw her on March 16. She said she saw the police there.
Anthony Black who described himself as a handyman, testified that he had been living at the home of the deceased since 1993. He said that he saw Mollison, who also worked for the deceased as a gardener, on the premises on March 19, 1994. They spoke. Mollison, he said, told him that Brown had gone to a wedding in the country and he had come to pick up his cheque.
That same Saturday — March 19 — another witness, Almedio Hall, o/c 'Robert' told of seeing Mollison at Brown's home. He stated that Mollison told him that someone had broken into his room.
Hall said he had asked Mollison for Brown and was told that she had gone to a wedding reception in the country.
A cautioned statement, allegedly given by Mollison to the police, in which he admitted killing Brown was admitted into evidence and read to the jury.
But in an unsworn statement from the dock, Mollison denied killing his employer, adding that she had been very good to him.
Consequent upon the sentence of detention during the Governor General's pleasure, which was imposed on Mollison by Justice Langrin following the jury's verdict, an appeal against his conviction was lodged with the local Court of Appeal.
The Court of Appeal on February 16, 2000 refused the appellant's application for leave to appeal against his conviction, but the court was concerned whether the sentence imposed on Mollison was compatible with the Constitution of Jamaica. The Court, thereupon, adjourned that issue to a separate hearing.
Then on May 29, 2000, the Court of Appeal, by a majority decision, allowed the appeal of Mollison. The sentence of detention during the GovernorGeneral's pleasure was set aside and a sentence of life imprisonment substituted, with a recommendation that the appellant be not considered for parole until he had served a term of imprisonment of 20 years, dated from July 25, 1997.
The Court comprised Justice Henderson Downer, acting as president; Justice Donald Bingham, and Justice Clarence "Billy" Walker, dissenting, all now retired.
At that point in time, the DPP Kent Pantry, QC, filed an appeal to the UK Privy Council (with leave of the Court of Appeal) against "the setting aside of the sentence of detention during the Governor General's pleasure".
In response, the respondent, (Mollison), through his attorney(s) sought to uphold the order of detention and cross-appealed against the sentence of life imprisonment which was substituted.
Leave to intervene was granted by the board to seven additional parties, each of whom, when aged between 14 and 17, had committed a crime of capital murder between dates from September 1980 to November 1996. Each of the seven had been sentenced to be detained during the Governor General's pleasure, either at trial or on appeal; all were confined in adult correctional centres and four of them, had applied to the Supreme Court of Jamaica for writs of habeas corpus. All the applications were adjourned pending the outcome of Mollison's appeal.
After reviewing all the arguments, the board came to the conclusion that, inter alia:
"...The nature and purpose of the sentence of detention during the Governor General's pleasure are clear...The only question is who should decide on the measure of punishment the detainee should suffer.
The board continued:
"...Having ruled that "the court's pleasure" should be substituted for "the Governor General's pleasure", the Court of Appeal majority ruled that the respondent be imprisoned for life and that he be not considered for parole until he had served a term of 20 years' imprisonment. This is the subject of the respondent's cross-appeal. His point is a short one.
"A sentence of imprisonment for life is a sentence of a different nature from a sentence of indefinite detention specifically designed to address the special circumstances of those convicted of murders committed under the age of 18. Substitution of the court for the Governor General should not lead to a change, and a change disadvantageous to the detainee, in the punishment imposed.
"The board did not understand the Director to resist this argument, to which there is, in the opinion of the board, no answer. The cross-appeal, therefore, succeeds. The sentence of life imprisonment must be quashed and a sentence of detention during the court's pleasure substituted.
"It is not for the board to prescribe how that sentence should be administered in order to give effect not only to the requirement that the offender be punished, but also to the requirement that the offender's progress and development in custody be periodically reviewed so as to judge when, having regard to the safety of the public and also the welfare of the offender, release on licence may properly be ordered. The Director considered that a suitable regime could be devised without undue difficulty, and the board shares his confidence.
"....The board will humbly advise Her Majesty that this appeal should be dismissed, that the cross-appeal should be allowed, that the sentence of life imprisonment be quashed, that a sentence of detention during the court's pleasure be substituted, and that the release of the respondent be determined by the court in accordance with Section 29(4) of the Juveniles Act 1951 as modified in accordance with this opinion."
Consequent on the Privy Council's ruling in Mollison's case, the cases of prisoners who were allowed to intervene in the proceedings, who had all been detained at the Governor General's pleasure, were sent back to the Court of Appeal for them to be sentenced in conformity with the ruling.
NEXT WEEK: Heavy rains told the story of how a tenant murdered his landlord
Sybil E Hibbert is a veteran journalist and retired court reporting specialist. She is also the wife of Retired ACP Isadore 'Dick' Hibbert, rated among the top Jamaican detectives of his time. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org