Supreme Court Justice Leighton Pusey, while declaring that Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn was quite within her rights to promptly serve notice of her intention to seek the death penalty for the man accused of murdering a family of five, on Tuesday refrained from detailing the implications for the accused, saying the court would wait until he had been briefed by an attorney.
The Trelawny native, Rushane Barnett, who is charged on five counts for the murders of 31-year-old Kimesha Wright, a practical nursing student and the mother of 15-year-old Kimanda Smith, 11-year-old Shara-Lee Smith, five-year-old Rafaella Smith, and 23- month- old Kishawn Henry, all of New Road, Cocoa Piece, Chapelton district, in Clarendon, appeared in the Supreme Court on Tuesday for his first court appearance by virtue of a voluntary bill of indictment proffered by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) but was without legal representation.
Tuesday, a prosecutor addressing the judge said in respect of the matter and based on the nature of the allegations, the director of public prosecutions had taken the decision to file the death penalty notice under Section 3 (1) of the Offences Against the Person Act. The provision addresses the possible sentences that could be imposed when there are multiple incidences of murder that arise on the same occasion.
However, Justice Pusey, upon being told that Barnett had not yet secured an attorney, noted that he could not explain the implications of the notice to the accused unless he had an attorney present. He, however, allowed the notice to be served on the accused while informing him that that the court would make provision for a legal aid attorney to be assigned to him, but emphasised that the option of retaining his own lawyer remained open.
Said Justice Pusey: “It is the director’s rights. I had indicated that the legal implications of the death penalty notice would best be indicated by the court at the time when he has counsel. But I understand the imperative that the Crown may feel to serve it at the earliest opportunity, given that this is an unusual situation, in the sense that this matter is first being heard by this court, which is why I would need to explain to the accused, because it is not often that somebody who is charged with a serious offence as this that their first time before a court is in this court. They would normally have had the opportunity of being in the Parish Court where the matter would then be prepared to come here”.
“The reason we are not going into details about the notice is that it is important for him to understand the implications legally…and then the details of the implications of that notice is something he can have even when he has legal advice,” the judge explained further.
Barnett, addressing the court on Tuesday on the question of securing legal representation said, “If mi fi like get a lawyer fi misself, mi would a haffi contact the family.” The accused man, however, went further to complain that this would prove difficult as officers at the Half-Way-Tree police lock-up, where he is being held, have been abusing him and were not allowing him to contact his relatives.
“Your Honour, the police at Half-Way-Tree... mi nuh know if a di crime weh mi commit or wah, cause a pure threaten dem a threaten mi an a beat mi, pure lick inna mi back, right now mi would like to see a doctor,” Barnett said.
The judge, in hearing the complaint, said the court would indicate to individuals at the lock-up that “while in custody, no matter the crime you are alleged to have committed... we will remind them that until you are convicted by a court you are considered innocent, and therefore, they can’t act in any particular way”.
Said Justice Pusey: “I know that the ODPP has a warm relationship with INDECOM, they will put them on notice so that there can be any necessary investigations if these things have been shown to be true, so we will ensure both from the police side and the DPP’s side, in terms of INDECOM making the necessary checks, that any actions taken against you outside the law will be dealt with.”
Prosecutors, in the meantime, requested that a psychiatric evaluation be done for Barnett before he makes his next court appearance on July 22. Justice Pusey, in explaining to the accused, said it was necessary that the medical checks be done, based on the offences he had been charged with, to ensure that there are no medical reasons which would prevent him from undergoing a trial.
He said three weeks would allow him to contact his family to get an attorney independently, but that a legal aid attorney has already been assigned to him, especially given the concerns he was raising about the behaviour of the police.
A vocal Barnett, after being ordered remanded, wanted to know the means available to him to contact his family.
“How mi ago see like family fi speak with dem, fi reason with them an see what is what?” the accused wanted to know.
The judge, in responding, told him to indicate to the police officers as the law allows him to call family members, especially in relation to getting an attorney.
“So you need to indicate that to the persons who are holding you. We are going to put it in writing so that there will be provision so that they make available to you what you need to get representation,” the judge stated.
Barnett, in responding, said: “Your Honour, the officer dem naw teck no talk from mi.”
Said Justice Pusey: “I understand that, that has been your experience so far, but now that the court is involved and now that we have indicated particular things and there are senior officers here with instructions, I am sure you will find that they are much more cooperative, and if not, we certainly will be able to deal with it and, as I said, that’s one of the reasons I have assigned an attorney so if there are any complaints that attorney can make those known,” the judge said.
Prosecutors said that Barnett, who is the cousin of the mother of four who was murdered, would often be at the Clarendon home, although he did not live there.
Allegations are that “sometime during the night of the 20th of June going into the 21st of June, between 12 midnight and 1:00 am, the accused used a knife to inflict several wounds to all five. After he had inflicted those wounds, he left the home and deposited the knife along with other items some distance away. Those items were retrieved and identified as items that belonged to the accused”.
The bodies of Wright and her four children, all of New Road, Cocoa Piece, Chapelton district, in Clarendon, were discovered inside their home with chop wounds and their throats slashed on the morning of Tuesday, June 21 by another relative. Barnett reportedly fled the area to Wilson Run in Trelawny, where he was apprehended by the police.
He was charged three days later based on a caution statement he gave to the police.