Lock them up longer
Police, ODPP want stiffer gang sentences
LLEWELLYN... we believe that in 2023 the public interest would oblige us to ask for life imprisonment and a mandatory minimum to be served of not less than 25 years

With the curtains coming down on the Klansman gang trial — the longest running matter of its kind in the English-speaking Caribbean to date — Jamaica's chief prosecutor Paula Llewellyn, King's Counsel, in expressing relief, says several prime recommendations will be made for amendments to the sentences under the Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organisations) Act, commonly known as the anti-gang law, to increase the penalties significantly.

Convicted gang leader Andre "Blackman" Bryan was on Monday sentenced to 39 and a half years behind bars for his leadership of the criminal organisation and for being the driving force behind several crimes which included murders and arson.

His cronies Dylon McLean, Tomrick Taylor, Michael Whitely, Brian Morris, and Lamar Simpson were sentenced to seven years and three months, nine-and-a-half years, 16 years, 18 years and six months, and one year and six months, respectively the same day.

On Tuesday, in the closing moments of the trial, the notorious Stephanie "Mumma" Cole-Christie, the sole female defendant, was sentenced to nine years and nine months, while 24-year-old convicted sharpshooter Tareek James was sentenced to 17 years and six months; Fabian Johnson, three years and nine months; the belligerent Ted Prince, 16 years; Jahzeel Blake, 11 years and nine months; Roel Taylor (cousin of Bryan), one year and nine months; Joseph McDermott, three years and 10 months; ex-soldier Jermaine Robinson, nine years and nine months; and driver for the gang Andrae Golding, five years and 11 months.

However, while feeling some sense of achievement that the convictions have put a dent in the gang's activities, Llewellyn was not pleased with the sentences.

"The Act was promulgated in 2014, we are now in 2023, there was an amendment in 2021, but only in respect of some offences. Nothing was done in relation to the leadership offences. What we have is a situation where, if convicted, the court can sentence for a term not exceeding 30 years. We believe that in 2023 the public interest would oblige us to ask for life imprisonment and a mandatory minimum to be served of not less than 25 years," she told journalists during an interview at the close of the trial on Tuesday.

The gangsters, 33 of whom originally faced the court, were all tried under the Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organisations) Act 2014. The Act, in the Second Schedule, indicates that, in relation to a conviction on indictment in a Circuit Court for the offence of leadership, management, or direction of a criminal organisation, the sentence is to be imprisonment for a term not exceeding 30 years. For a conviction in relation to membership of a criminal organisation, the schedule provides that, for a first offence, imprisonment should be for a term not exceeding 20 years. There is no mandatory minimum sentence in relation to either of the offences.

The Crown, in opening its case on September 20, 2021 had said the individuals comprised the 'Blackman faction' of the gang and had various roles in which they acted as killers, drivers, lookout men or watchmen, gunsmiths, and foot soldiers.

Llewellyn said her office, in concert with the country's crime chief, Deputy Commissioner of Police Fitz Bailey, will also be recommending that the penalty for membership be revisited.

"In terms of membership, being part of a criminal organisation, we believe that we need to have a lifting of the maximum which is not exceeding 20 years. We believe that needs to be changed and perhaps should go up to not exceeding 40 years," she said, noting that this would give judges leeway to apply varying prison terms depending on the various roles and level of involvement of the gangster.

"The Section 10 offences — which address recruitment, inciting, aiding and abetting, tampering — for all of these offences the maximum should go up to life imprisonment. Persons who perpetuate these offences are literally driving blood into the skeletal structure [of these criminal outfits]," Llewellyn stated.

"Here again we would not put a mandatory minimum," she said, in order to give judges the flexibility "to go up the scale" depending on the actual roles played, and assessing the roles in the totality of the evidence.

In praising trial judge Chief Justice Bryan Sykes for his deft handling of the sentencing exercise, Llewellyn said, "The chief justice went pretty high in his starting points, but at the end of the day, as a matter of law, the sentencing judge must give full credit for time already spent in custody."

In the meantime, she said recommendations will be made that the sentence for the offence of facilitating the commission of serious crimes be pegged to the sentence for the particular offence in law, once the Crown has been able to prove the commission of the offence.

"I think it is absolutely critical… so, for example, the murder in this case, one individual was convicted of five counts of facilitating murder, but you saw what the chief justice had to give him, and he had to, in a very Solominic way, use the ability to hand down concurrent and consecutive sentences to arrive at 39-and-a-half years," she pointed out.

Llewellyn noted that although the Crown was able to prove that the murders were committed under the anti-gang legislation the sentencing judge could only go up to a particular ceiling in sentencing.

Justice Sykes, in several instances during the trial, had made discreet references to the potential for conflict in that aspect of the legislation, noting that it posed a danger in terms of inconsistent decisions from the bench.

"We are saying that in reality, because the sentence for murder would be life, then really and truly the sentencing judge should have been able to consider each of the counts up to life, and we believe it is really critical in the present climate that we have in Jamaica," Llewellyn said.

"We believe our cry for an amendment to increase the sentences should get the support of both sides of the political divide, because it would be a good thing for the public interest… We all have an obligation to do the right thing and to act in the public interest; the evidence was there for all to see," she noted.

Llewellyn said the proposal will be placed in writing, with justification, and submitted to the minister and permanent secretary of the Ministry of National Security, and copied to the minister of justice and the minister of legal and constitutional affairs.

"I believe that coming from this case it is an urgent, urgent priority, and that the amendments must be drafted in short order and passed [into law] as soon as possible, because there are other gang matters coming down the pipe soon," she pointed out.

Llewellyn, in the meantime, had high praises for the investigators, the prosecutorial team from her office, the Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime Investigations Branch, the Crown's two main witnesses, and the police for their "excellent" witness care.

On Monday, Justice Sykes, ahead of dishing out the sentences, said the notorious gang operated with "a culture of impunity" under the leadership of a man who had no qualms about "killing again, and again, and again".

He said based on the evidence disclosed in the case, the convicts would have continued with their "criminal conduct" outside of their arrests. He said he had decided on custodial sentences, as there was nothing to indicate that the individuals had any intention to abandon their life of crime.

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

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