Defence's sentence proposal infuriates mother of murdered Clarendon woman
Gwendolyn McKnight mourns the gruesome murder of her daughter and four grandchildren in Cocoa Piece, Clarendon on June 21, 2022. (Photo: Joseph Wellington)

A proposal by defence attorney Tamika Harris of a 45-year prison sentence for Rushane Barnett, the 23-year-old who admitted to murdering his cousin Kimesha Wright and her four children in Clarendon in June has been sharply rebuffed by Wright's grieving mother Gwendolyn McKnight.

"I am wondering if she has a child. I am wondering if she is feeling what I am feeling to bear a child and lose her cruelly, my grandchildren, and she is saying 45 years? The boy murdered my child and grandchildren; she is trying to tell the judge to ease up on the boy that murderer that murdered my daughter and her children," a passionate McKnight declared on Thursday.

She was speaking with the Jamaica Observer following the start of a sentencing exercise for Barnett, who is her nephew, at the Supreme Court in downtown Kingston.

In the matter, which is being heard by Justice Leighton Pusey, the Crown, led by Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn, after pulling back its notice to ask for the death penalty because Barnett entered an early guilty plea, is proposing life imprisonment at hard labour for Barnett on each count which would see him serving 60 years and nine months before being eligible for parole. However, the defence has said that 45 years before parole would be an appropriate sentence.

But McKnight, who attended the hearing, was vehement in her grief, saying, "All I can say to the judge is 'Do the right thing in the sight of God and man'."

Addressing this reporter with her eyes closed for most of the interview she continued, "Know that I want justice for my daughter and my grandchildren. I know the judge supposed to have children and he wouldn't like to know somebody brutally murder them in cold blood and go scotch free, so I am asking him kindly, in the name of Jesus Christ, to give that boy what he deserve."

"I thought they were giving him 125 years for the five of them that he kill, is five, so he should get 25 years each so it was 125 years I am expecting him to get with no parole for what he did," McKnight, who had welcomed the death penalty notice, declared.

On Thursday 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.

McKnight, who was accompanied by a woman who had the word "Aunty" emblazoned on the back of her white top, watched with an inscrutable expression as Barnett walked by without looking in her direction as he was being led away.

Asked how she felt sitting just a stone's throw from where Barnett was in the dock, McKnight, who broke down during the hearing and wept silently, said, "To God be the glory. I feel hurt and I feel pain for what he has done to my daughter and grandchildren, but when I look at it, I am a child of God and I know that God is there with me, so all I could do in that courtroom was cry and call upon God in my mind."

She, in the meantime, was dismissive of her nephew's claim that he was influenced supernaturally in carrying out the killings.

"He is lying, he don't hear no voices, that's what he did have in his mind all along. He don't hear no voices, no Obeah, he is just wicked, and wicked people must go down. No murderer not supposed to sit down a eat taxpayer money. You take five life and you still want to live?" she said vehemently.

McKnight, who said she "cried all day" on September 13 her daughter's birthday pointed out that the date set by Justice Pusey to hand down the sentence will be four days before her own birthday.

"it's been painful for me from this murderer kill my daughter and my grandchildren. I don't know myself... it is not fair in the sight of God. I need justice, I need justice," she said moaning.

The bodies of Wright and her four children were discovered inside their home at Cocoa Piece, Clarendon with chop wounds and their throats slashed on the morning of Tuesday, June 21 by another relative.

Barnett fled the area to Wilson Run in Trelawny where he was apprehended. He was charged three days later based on a caution statement he gave to the police.

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

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