Loss too great
Following a less than 40-minute sentencing hearing Thursday afternoon in which mechanic Robert Fowler was sent to prison for life for the murder of 20-year-old Khanice Jackson, her father and stepmother said they, too, are now left to live out a life sentence of their own with no early release in sight.
Jackson, a resident of Independence City in Portmore, St Catherine, went missing on March 24, 2021, after leaving home for her job in the Corporate Area where she had been employed for only six months. Her body was found in a ditch on Dyke Road in the parish two days later. Shortly after, Fowler — with whom she had travelled to work at times — was arrested and charged.
In an interview with the media following the judgment handed down by Supreme Court Judge Justice Leighton Pusey in the Home Circuit Division of the court in downtown Kingston, Jackson’s father, Roy, and stepmother, Collette — who fought to remain composed — said, while they respected the court’s decision, the sentence could not compensate their loss.
The now 52-year-old Fowler will not be eligible to apply for parole until after he has served 22 years and 11 months, at which time he will be at least 74 years old.
“He was given due process, but, as a family, the pain that we feel, that needs its due process and that may take the rest of our lives to give that to ourselves. One has to understand that in these circumstances the family gets a life sentence too,” Jackson’s stepmother, whose tears flowed down her cheeks unhindered following the sentencing, told the press.
Roy Jackson agreed, adding, “It is not something you want to say or accept, but we are sentenced to mourn and grieve for the rest of our lives. His (Fowler’s) family also are left to mourn, because within our society they are in a new state with which they are uncomfortable. I grieve for my daughter; I grieve for other victims in our society, especially the women — not that the men are not equally important — and we wonder when will it stop.
“We are becoming desensitised to brutality and to wickedness and call it by other names for whatever reason,” he noted further, blinking back tears.
“My personal justice is my daughter lying on a bed across from us cracking up and giving jokes. He robbed our family of that. Her mom is feeling it, her dad is feeling it, my son is feeling it, I am feeling it,” Jackson’s stepmother declared.
Asked what went through his mind when he heard the sentence, Roy Jackson said, “It still cannot correct the loss. True justice can never be found for us; it’s probably justice for the system but true justice for us will always be elusive.”
Last week Jackson’s mother, Eunice Chambers, who is now in the United States, told the court in a victim impact statement that she is unable to face Fowler or Jamaica as she struggles with the pain of losing her only child.
On Thursday, Justice Pusey, in stating that Fowler could not be sentenced to less than life behind bars for the brutality of the murder, took pains to point out that, although parole was prescribed under law, Fowler — when that time comes — “will have to show that he has in some way amended his ways and has acted in a way that shows he is suitable to rejoin society”. Furthermore, he emphasised that even if the parole board finds Fowler suitable, he would be supervised.
In a deftly handled sentencing exercise, the judge — from a starting point of 20 years — added 12 years for the aggravating factors before subtracting for the mitigating factors, which included the mechanic’s guilty plea, lack of prior conviction, good character, and the two years already spent in custody, leaving the 22 years and 11 months.
“This is a case in which the sentence will be a life sentence, and the reason for that is, there was ample and compelling evidence, he was a person of interest from the outset when Jackson was only reported as missing, the scratches on his back, the items found at his home belonging to her, along with other material,” Justice Pusey said, noting that even before forensic testing indicated that Fowler was a person of interest “there was strong circumstantial evidence”.
Under the Offences Against the Person Act Fowler could not be sentenced to less than 15 years or life imprisonment with parole.
Fowler, in a statement given under caution to the police, had said that on the day in question he had picked up Jackson on Passage Fort Drive in Portmore. He said during the journey they quarrelled over a promise he had made three weeks prior to give her money to buy a gift for her boyfriend’s birthday. He claimed he had not honoured the pledge because he was under pressure at work and things had been hard for him.
He said when the dispute continued, he turned his car around and told Jackson to take a bus to work. Fowler claimed that he then parked the vehicle on the road to Caymanas, climbed from his seat to the back seat of the car, drew Jackson over and strangled her until he “saw froth coming from her mouth and she had stopped moving”.
He then drove the vehicle with her body to Forum Fishing Village, where he bound the hands and feet and left the body in an abandoned building. About 7:30 that same evening he went back for the body, placed it in his vehicle, and took it to Dyke Road where he left it in a ditch. The following morning he took her handbag to the market in Cross Roads, St Andrew, where he emptied the contents into a garbage bin.