American Robert Benoit's sentencing on Friday was conducted in-camera. However, information coming from inside the court was that when the 59-year-old Caucasian man heard that he would be spending 17 years and three months behind bars for having sex with a person under the age of 16 he clutched his chest and was uncharacteristically silent.
Benoit's reaction was in sharp contrast to his behaviour in March when, after being unanimously declared guilty by a jury comprising five men and two women in the St James Circuit Court, he erupted, charging that "corruption" and racism had a part in his verdict.
Again, two Fridays ago, when the matter was called up for sentencing, Benoit became boisterous, resulting in his attorney Christopher Townsend making an application to withdraw his representation.
This Friday, however, after being sentenced at the Supreme Court in downtown Kingston, where his case had been transferred, the diminutive Benoit, dressed in an earth-toned shirt and stonewashed jeans, his long blonde hair caught in a ponytail, listened calmly and remained mum, the Jamaica Observer was told.
The newspaper learnt that Supreme Court Judge Justice Andrea Thomas, in handing down the sentence, pointed to several aggravating factors, one of which she said was the vast age difference between Benoit and the victim. The other was his treatment of the complainant as a "cheap commodity" for his "sexual gratification" and the manner in which the act was committed.
Other aggravating factors, she said, were his use of gifts to get close to the victim and his posing as a Bible teacher for her. The Observer was told that Benoit had conducted Bible classes on at least two occasions with the complainant.
Justice Thomas on Friday reportedly said the mitigating factors were his relatively good social enquiry (community) report and the absence of any previous convictions.
The little girl, in a victim impact statement placed into the records of the court, reportedly said she battled depression after the incident as she felt betrayed by her father who "always tell me he would not let any man trouble me, but he let Bob have sex with me".
In expressing a desire to be back home, the child who is in the custody of the State, said while she has cried a lot, since the verdict was handed down she has been feeling better because she knows Benoit will be put away and cannot "trouble" her again.
In the evidence unveiled in the matter, the incident took place in December 2020, two days before Christmas.
Prosecutors said that on the night of December 23 Benoit had visited the 12-year-old girl's home. According to the child, she was instructed by her father to spend the night with the then 57-year-old man and "bring back the money". She said right after that statement was made to her, Benoit bought her father a bottle of Magnum tonic wine and left with her.
According to Benoit, who is a regular visitor to the island, he was in the community to give care packages to people there.
The girl's mother said in her evidence that she was responsible for taking care of Benoit's rented home in the area and so would go there to cook and clean for him. She, however, denied knowing what transpired between him and her child.
The young girl said that night, while she was at his house, she was awakened from sleep by Benoit who was atop her. She said the man had intercourse with her.
The following morning, police, acting on information, showed up at the residence in search of Benoit.
When he finally emerged from the dwelling, the little girl told the police that he had been inside "trying to hide" her.
He was subsequently arrested and charged for having sex with a person under the age of 16.
In April this year lobby group Families for Freedom, a New York City human rights organisation operated by and for families facing and fighting deportation, launched a petition seeking to have the United States Government intervene in the matter. According to the group, Benoit had been wrongfully charged by the Jamaican police and suffered abuse and injuries while in custody. The group further charged that Benoit was wrongfully charged due to lack of legal guidance. They further charged that videos of the complainant declaring that Benoit did not touch her, which they had in their possession, had been sidelined by the prosecution and were not accepted as evidence. Additionally, they claimed that Benoit is ageing and, having been subjected to injuries inflicted by Jamaican cops, will be killed in prison.