Lawyers claim ‘diminished responsibility’ in manslaughter case
Diminished responsibility was the defence put forward by attorneys representing Keron “Mario” Vernon who was charged with manslaughter in relation to the fatal stabbing of his brother Damion Newell.
Vernon pleaded not guilty to murder and guilty to manslaughter on March 22, 2023 in the Home Circuit Court, almost four years after the incident.
Reports are that about 6:00 am on April 6, 2019, at Long Wall in Stony Hill, St Andrew, 26-year-old Vernon used a fork to stab his brother, who succumbed to his injuries.
A sentence indication report from the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) obtained by the Jamaica Observer revealed that Vernon, who has had no previous offences “voiced that this incident must have affected his family because they share a close relationship. He also stated that the incident would have impacted the community in a negative manner”.
Attorney-at-law Kemar Setal, one of Vernon’s legal counsel, told the Observer that diminished responsibility was the necessary defence due to the fact that Vernon had an abnormality of the mind.
“Mr Vernon said he was hearing voices in his head when he committed the offence, believing that the victim was not his brother but someone pretending to be him. A witness mentioned that Mr Vernon, while committing the act, was saying that his brother was already killed and now they are trying to kill him [Vernon],” Setal said in an interview last Friday.
“A medical report was done which confirmed that Mr Vernon was suffering from psychosis, which resulted in him experiencing auditory hallucinations and speaks to why he would think that the victim was not his brother,” he added.
The report, dated March 16, 2022, stated that Vernon was interviewed at the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre and “appeared coherent in his responses”.
Vernon attended Stony Hill Primary and Junior High School and then went on to Glengoffe High School. He said he stopped attending school in grade 10 because a group of boys were physical assaulting him daily.
“He voiced that he loved his brother endlessly and they shared a close bond. He recalled that his father died when he was 14 years old and then Damion Newell, his brother, moved in with him and assisted with his development. He voiced that now that he is stabilised and can think more logically, he thinks about the incident every day and is having a difficulty coming to terms with the fact that he was so ill that he took his brother’s life,” it read.
The report also noted that Vernon, who said that he and his brother were inseparable, indicated that, prior to the incident, he would hear voices and they would tell him to do various things. He asked that the court extends him leniency in the form of a non-custodial sentence.
According to the report, Vernon’s mother, Lilieth Christian, who resides in London, England, was interviewed via a WhatsApp call.
“She concurred with offender’s statements regarding his background but added that even though she was not present, she communicated with his father regularly, who would inform her of his development. [Christian] stated that she had plans to take him along with her to England, but his father pleaded with her for him stay, stating that [Vernon] is his only child and he would like the opportunity to raise him, hence she agreed,” the report said.
“She described [Vernon] as a quiet child who was well behaved and displayed no behavioural challenges at home or school.”
It noted that Christian recounted that a few months before the incident Newell told her that Vernon was acting strange, such as pointing to things crawling on the wall and saying that he was hearing voices telling him to do various activities.
She recalled that, at one point, Vernon had left their home and went to St Elizabeth and was sleeping on the road. However, with the help of relatives, they were contacted and through his paternal aunt Christian sent remittances and requested that Newell and another brother take him to the doctor.
“She informed that this was done, and the doctor reported that [Vernon] was stressed. Based on her knowledge, no other intervention was done until this incident transpired.”
As part of the report, a caseworker visited Vernon’s community to ascertain information regarding his conduct and character while he resided among residents.
“Several persons, when approached, appeared hesitant in divulging information regarding the matter. However, a few who were willing to speak informed that [Vernon] was a quiet and calm individual who shared a close relationship with his brother. They divulged that [Vernon] began acting weird a few months prior to the incident and his brother sought medical assistance for him.
“According to community members, they believe that the incident was triggered by witchcraft as [Vernon’s] stepmother wanted full possession of the property. Some claimed that some time ago, his stepmother declared that one of the brother’s would die and the other would be imprisoned. Residents indicated that if [Vernon] is stabilised, they have no difficulty with him returning to the area.”