60 years minimum
DPP says anything less for Cocoa Piece killer would shock the public conscience

DIRECTOR of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Paula Llewellyn, KC, in withdrawing the death penalty notice for Rushane Barnett — the man who pleaded guilty to murdering his cousin Kimesha Wright and her four children in Clarendon in June — says sentencing judge Leighton Pusey will "shock the public conscience" if he goes below the 60 years and nine months imprisonment the Crown is now proposing.

The DPP, addressing the judge during the start of a sentencing exercise at the Supreme Court in downtown Kingston on Thursday, said since Barnett had pleaded guilty at the first opportunity the Crown was obliged to withdraw the death penalty as a sentencing option — which it had given notice of on June 28.

In urging the judge to view the case as the "worst example", the DPP said the prosecution could not find case law in Jamaica where five people were killed by one individual at the same location. She emphasised that since no such case has been prosecuted in Jamaica before, the judge would be setting a precedence in the judgement he hands down.

"On any platform, and in any language, this would be the worst example of an offence of murder that we have seen in this jurisdiction and therefore we would be inviting the court… to view this case as the worst example. The Crown would like to commend to Your Lordship that the most suitable starting point for each count in this indictment would be life imprisonment with an eligibility for parole not before serving 55 years," the veteran prosecutor said.

Undertakers remove one of the five people found murdered in their house in Cocoa Piece, Clarendon on June 21, 2022. (Photo: Joseph Wellington)

Shock and disbelief gripped the nation on June 21 upon news spreading of the grizzly murders of Wright, her daughters Kimanda Smith, 15; Sharalee Smith, 12; Rafaella Smith, five; and Wright's only son, 23-month-old Kishawn Henry Jr, whose bodies were found inside their house in Cocoa Piece, Clarendon, by a relative who had gone looking for them.

Barnett had fled the central Jamaica parish and sought refuge in Trelawny, where he was eventually apprehended by the police.

On Thursday, Llewellyn outlined the eight aggravating factors which the prosecution had contemplated, such as the age of the children, the fact that they were related to the accused, the wounds, the fact that Barnett was a person in authority and an occasional caregiver for the children, and the account he gave to the police which, according to the Crown, shows there was "a clear and calculated intention to kill Wright and inflict wounds to her in front of her children".

In noting the report of a forensic psychiatrist who had assessed Barnett, the DPP said it was clear he was not labouring under a psychiatric illness at the time he acted. According to the consultant psychiatrist, Barnett admitted to killing the five, claiming voices in his head told him to do so, but has no prior reported history of psychopathology. Barnett, the report said, claimed he had been hearing voices since he was 18 years old. According to the forensic psychiatrist, Barnett was not influenced by any abnormality of the mind at the time of the murders.

LLEWELLYN... on any platform, and in any language, this would be the worst example of an offence of murder that we have seen in this jurisdiction

"He understands the nature of the offence but describes the incident as a result of Obeah reaching him and forcing him to act. He has no major mental illness but displayed antisocial personality traits. He currently has no suicidal or homicidal ideas," the report said.

According to the report Barnett, based on a psychopathic checklist, displayed superficial charm, deceitfulness, lack in remorse, lack of empathy, adult antisocial behaviour and also the possible presence of impulsivity, and does not accept responsibility.

"He was aware and master of his thoughts. He knew exactly what he was doing but clearly he had a sense of entitlement… there was a clear intent," the DPP stated, adding that the only two mitigating factors which the Crown had to "search for" were that he pleaded guilty early and that it "would appear that he has expressed remorse by doing so".

"It is our opinion that the accused should not benefit from the discount based on early guilty plea [for which the court can give a 33 and one third per cent discount]. The Crown is of the view that in the present case, if Your Lordship decided to even reduce the sentence by up to one per cent, it would shock the public conscience," Llewellyn stated.

She said the fact that the act was "premeditated, cold and callous" and that Barnett "hid the murder implements and took himself way", was even more reason for the judge to "not reduce the sentence at all".

The DPP, in outlining the proposed sentence, said with the starting point of 55 years, eight years should be added for the aggravated factors, making it 63 years. She said with a year each deducted for the two mitigating factors and the three months spent in custody by Barnett the remainder would be 60 years and nine months in respect of each count. Hence, the Crown's arrival at its proposal for Barnett to be given life imprisonment at hard labour, serving 60 years and nine months before being eligible for parole.

On Thursday, Tamika Harris, the attorney representing Barnett, in her plea in mitigation said while the defence could not deny the aggravating factors outlined by the Crown, the fact that her client had turned himself in willingly and signalled his intent to plead guilty even before an attorney was assigned to him was reason enough for the court to give him the discount the Crown argued the court should not give.

According to Harris, if the court ignored the fact that Barnett had pleaded guilty early it would be sending the wrong message to others who might be minded to go that route.

In asking the court to utilise a lower starting point, Harris said it should take into consideration that Barnett had said that if he was given the chance he would apologise to his aunt and tell her that he heard voices in his head and could not resist doing what he did.

She said an appropriate starting point for Barnett would be 50 years with a 10 per cent, discount taking it down to 45 years.

"I do believe 45 years before parole would be an appropriate sentence," she said.

Justice Pusey said the court would consider all the facts and set out its reasoning in a format that would be clear and precise for delivery on October 20 at 2:00 pm.

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Senior staff reporter dunkleywillisa@jamaicaobserver.com

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