Man found guilty of murdering Cuban-born wife
KINGSTOWN, St Vincent (CMC) — A High Court judge has set October 13 as the date for sentencing 60-year-old Michael Israel, who was found guilty by a 12-member jury on Wednesday night of murdering his Cuban-born wife at their son’s school in 2020.
The jury deliberated for nearly two and a half hours before returning the guilty verdict, even as Israel maintained throughout the trial that he loved his wife, Arianna Taylor-Israel, a 44-year-old nurse, who died after being shot at one of her son’s schools in Kingstown on January, 30, 2020. His lawyers said she was shot accidentally.
Justice Rickie Burnett has ordered that a social inquiry report be submitted to the court by September 18, with the lawyers expected to make submissions on October 2 ahead of the sentencing 11 days later.
Defence attorney Linton Lewis, who along with his daughter, Maffica Lewis, represented Israel, told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) that he was “extremely shocked” by the verdict but could not say immediately whether there would be an appeal.
The jury had opted to deliberate immediately after the judge had summed up the case on Wednesday evening, rather than on Thursday morning, as Crown counsel Grenadian-born Richie Maitland had suggested.
In the absence of the jury, Maitland had cited a Privy Council ruling that the jury should deliberate in the absence of any pressures, such as worrying about how they would get home or how their children would be picked up.
But Lewis objected to the suggestion that the deliberation take place on Thursday morning, saying that none of the jurors had indicated that they were opposed to deliberating immediately.
However, when the matter was put to the jury, they opted to consider their verdict immediately, rather than returning on Thursday.
Justice Burnett’s summation and the jury’s deliberation came three weeks after both the prosecution and defence had given their closing arguments on July 21.
“Now, foreigners in a country are vulnerable to all forms of abuse. They lack the deep-rooted, long-standing relationships, familiar and friendly, which would protect them socially from people who would want to tell them anything and who would want to do them anything,” Maitland had told the court.
“Arianna Israel didn’t have a father or brothers or male cousins to protect her in this instance. As such, she now relies on you, a panel of 12 Vincentians, to see that justice is done. And the prosecution asks you that you in fact see that justice is done by returning a verdict of guilty for Mr Michael Israel,” Maitland said.
The jury rejected the defence’s case that Israel had shot his wife accidentally, disagreeing also with Lewis’ arguments that his client should be allowed to go home to his family.
“Again, I ask you, please, to remember this. It is Mr Israel’s only day in court. He has come before you and he has presented his evidence. And now he seeks justice from you. And he seeks justice under the law.
“Mr Israel is innocent of the crime and should be…acquitted. He’s innocent of the crime and should be acquitted. He should not be convicted,” Lewis said, adding, “I don’t know what more can be said.
“I ask you please, members of the jury, having heard the evidence in this case, not what is heard outside but what you heard here, please.
“I don’t have to prove the defence case but I’m proving it to you… I beg of you, jury, to do what is right in accordance with the law, acquit Mr Israel and let him go home to his family,” Lewis said.
The court heard that on January 30, 2020, Israel went to the St Martin’s Secondary School (SMSS) in Kingstown, as he had done every school day since one of his sons enrolled there, to pick up his sons.
Holstered under his shirt was his .32 revolver, a weapon he had inherited from his father and for which he had a permit. According to his account, the weapon was loaded with four rounds of ammunition — two less than its maximum capacity.
When Israel, a former public servant, left the school compound, his wife, with whom he had been in a relationship for about 20 years, was lying mortally wounded in the school yard.
She had been shot three times by rounds discharged from her husband’s gun.
Shortly after the shooting, Taylor-Israel, a nurse, was pronounced dead at Milton Cato Memorial Hospital, where she worked. Her husband had left her mortally wounded on the ground and drove away, throwing away the firearm in the process.
The prosecution said that Israel stopped at a shop and had a beer and would later disclose to one of his former co-workers that he had given his wife six shots.
An autopsy conducted the following day by pathologist Dr Ronald Child concluded that the woman died as a result of three gunshot wounds, one of which was definitely responsible for death.
During his trial, Israel said that his blood pressure was extremely high on the day of the shooting and he had problems seeing and had asked the former co-worker to drive him home.
He told the court that he loved his wife and had accidentally shot her during a squabble after she attacked him with her phone.
Israel, who took the stand in his own defence, said on the day of the killing he saw his wife and their sons sleeping on the bed and a space was created for him to lie between them.
He said Taylor-Israel got up and ironed some clothes and he asked her if she was working that day but she did not answer. In his attempt to get her to say something, he further asked her if she was dancing that morning, saying, in Spanish, “Baila. Baila.”
Israel said he and his wife had an altercation at the school and had attempted to hit him with her mobile phone.
He said that as she was attempting to hit him again, he grabbed her hand and they started to wrestle. Israel said that his gun belt was moving freely around his waist and as he tried to move it back to one side, his wife grabbed onto it.
They were both pulling and a shot went off between his legs and the pulling and tugging continued during which another shot went off.
“I could have looked into her face and she was watching me. She has a way she does look when she mad. She was looking at me. I look over to her. The gun was between us. I took it up. I just did not know what to do. I walked towards the vehicle, sat down for some seconds, a minute and drove slowly out of the yard,” he told the court.
During cross examination by Maitland, Israel denied telling psychiatrist Dr Karen Providence one week after the shooting about his wife and their relationship and denied saying their relationship was volatile.