Death penalty is merely ‘blood on top of blood’
Rights advocate urges reason over emotions
Gwendolyn Wright McKnight is being consoled by friends as she mourns the brutal murder of her four grandchildren and her daughter, Kemisha Wright, at their house at Cocoa Piece in Clarendon earlier this month. (Photo: Joseph Wellington)

The head of one of the country’s human rights groups has described the death penalty as just more “blood on top of blood” and is urging the State to let reason prevail over emotions in the case of Rushane Barnett, the man charged with the murder of a young mother and her four children in Clarendon last week.

Carla Gullotta, executive director of Stand up for Jamaica, was responding to the death penalty notice served on Barnett by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) when he made his first appearance in the Home Circuit Court on Tuesday.

DPP Paula Llewellyn had explained in a news release that her office had filed the death penalty notice on Barnett after carefully considering the allegations disclosed in the evidentiary material gathered so far, the law, and public interest in the gruesome murders.

Barnett is charged with murder in the deaths of 31-year-old Kimeisha Wright and her children Kimanda Smith, 15; Shara-Lee Smith, 10; Rafaella Smith, 5; and Kishawn Henry, 23 months old.

The five were found with their throats slashed inside their house in Coco Piece, Clarendon, on July 21, triggering shock and outrage across the country. A few hours after the bodies were found, the police named 23-year-old Barnett, otherwise called Jett or Nick, as a person of interest in the matter. He was eventually held later that night in Trelawny.

“First, it is really horrendous, and I must express my horror over what happened, but secondly, my reaction is that we should still not get emotional. I don’t think that [anything that further drives] the outrage is going to help the country to resolve what is happening,” Gullotta told the Jamaica Observer in an interview Tuesday evening.

Pointing to the fact that the court had ordered a psychiatric evaluation for Barnett, which was requested by prosecutors to determine whether he is fit to plead, Gullotta said the results of that evaluation could nullify the prosecution’s move.

“A psychiatric evaluation has been ordered for the person that was detained, so that should invite everybody to want to apply some caution before we decide to want to request the death penalty, because in case he is mentally ill, he is still guilty for doing something horrendous, but he cannot be sentenced,” she argued.

She also reiterated her position that the effectiveness of the death penalty in stemming crime is yet to be proved.

“Every [few] years somebody is waving for the death penalty as a solution which, over the years, we have seen, is not. There are countries like America where the death penalty is used and their crime is still very high. There are countries like Canada where the death penalty has been abolished where the violence is not even a third compared to the United States,” Gullotta reasoned.

“I think when we take a stance we should always take a stand which is inviting everybody to realise what is better. I do not believe in the death penalty, but I do not also believe in any form of reaction which is emotional and not rationale. I think that all of us should think twice,” she said in urging that caution should be exercised to not end up executing an innocent person.

“The punishment must fit the crime, but I don’t think if somebody kills a person it means they should get the same level of violence; it’s just blood on top of more blood,” Gullotta said.

On Wednesday, newly elected president of the Jamaica Council of Churches Archbishop Kenneth Richards told the Observer that he was yet to canvass the views of the membership on the indication by prosecutors, but said personally he was not in favour of the death penalty.

“The Catholic position is that we are not advocates of the death penalty. Of course, we stand against any kind of murders, the taking of any life, but this person has been caught quickly, the police acted with alacrity, he is charged, we await his conviction but we would not be supporting a call for hanging,” he told the Observer.

In March this year, amidst concerns from Jamaicans For Justice about utterances by Prime Minister Andrew Holness indicating support for the reimposition of the death penalty, Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs Marlene Malahoo Forte said she was of the view that its reintroduction would not be a backward step as felt in some quarters.

“I do not share the view that implementation of the death penalty would be a retrograde step,” said Malahoo Forte, who was formerly Jamaica’s attorney general. She, however, noted that her “personal view” was not to be seen as “an indication of what the Government will or will not do”.

According to Malahoo Forte, while she harbours “concern about the use of the death penalty”, she was also of the opinion that, “more than anything else I do believe that when you have penalties, if you are not going to use them, get rid of them; if you have them, use them”.

Capital punishment remains on the books in Jamaica but may only apply in certain aggravated murder convictions.

However, there have been no executions since 1988.

GULLOTTA... the effectiveness of the death penalty in stemming crime is yet to be proved
Alicia Dunkley-Willis

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