A TOBAGO man who was convicted of manslaughter at a judge-alone trial has been sentenced to 12 years’ hard labour.
Sheldon Williams, who was found guilty of the unlawful killing of his five-year-old step-son Jahmal Omari Grant, on August 1, 2008, by Justice Lisa Ramsumair-Hinds in the Tobago High Court, was also ordered to compensate the child’s mother.
Ramsumair-Hinds, who held the judge-alone trial in July, sentenced Williams earlier this month. She ordered him to pay to Grant's mother, Yurima Francois, compensation in the sum of $50,000 and enrol in anger management courses and any other courses accessible to him through the prison service so that he makes the best use of his time in custody.
He also received a two-month discount for the time he spent in remand awaiting his trial.
In her ruling, Ramsumair-Hinds said she was sure, based on the evidence, that when he was confronted by the police, he admitted to his actions by telling the policeman, “Ah hit him, it happen already and ah sorry, ah didn’t mean to hurt and damage anybody.”
She said he need not have intended the tragic consequences which followed, but it was obvious that if a grown man inflicts a blow, worse yet more than one, to the frame of a five-year-old child, any sober and reasonable person would inevitably realise that there was the risk of some harm.
The judge said it was not even a case where she needed to ask if Williams knew he was assaulting a child was unlawful or dangerous, only whether the prosecution proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Williams did assault the child and his death was as a result of the assault.
According to the prosecution’s evidence, led by State attorney Stacy Laloo-Chung, the child’s mother left for work, while Williams took Grant to work with him.
While at work, Francois saw several “call me” requests from Williams and the first time she called him back, he hung up on her and the second time, he told her she should leave work because he was “frighten” because Jahmal was “not moving.”
On her way home, Williams called her again and told her go straight to the hospital which she did. While there, Williams told her he sent Jahmal to bathe and the child fell in the bathroom and hit his head. She was also told the child was vomiting.
According to the evidence, sometime earlier, the couple’s landlord heard when Williams came home and he heard sounds as if a gas tank was being moved and then some shouting.
Some 20 minutes later, Williams went to the landlord and told him he was cleaning the bathroom and Jahmal fell from the bed. Williams also told him, he gave the child water and he began vomiting. When the landlord accompanied Williams to the apartment, he saw the child motionless on the bed and naked. He saw no vomit and the ambulance was called.
Francois’ brother, when he questioned Williams at the hospital after he saw him running, was told, “Jahmal now die. He fell in the bathroom and lash he head.”
A post-mortem was done at the hospital and Dr Hubert Daisley observed blood in the child’s abdominal cavity. A forensic post mortem was ordered and Dr Eastlyn McDonald-Burris found that the child sustained more than one blunt impact which caused severe contusions internally. She also testified that she did not believe the injuries she observed could have been sustained in a fall.
Although Williams did not testify at the actual trial, he did do so at a voir dire at which nine witnesses for the prosecution also gave evidence.
His voir dire testimony was taken into consideration at the trial. He claimed he took the child to work with him and Jahmal began vomiting. He thought it was not serious and returned home and began doing some household chores. After cleaning the bathroom, he sent Jahmal to bathe, and he heard a noise like something falling. He said called out to the child, who told him he fell and hit his head. He also saw swelling to the child’s forehead and Jahmal vomited several times after that.
Williams left the boy to lie on the bed and he called Francois. The first time he called her, he did not like the way she answered and told her not to bother and pelted down the phone. He returned to the room and realised Jahmal was not moving, and then went to the landlord for help to call an ambulance as he did not have money on his phone. While speaking to the medical personnel, he found he was being asked too many questions and had to repeat himself so he began to curse and slammed down the phone.
Williams called Dr Hughvon Des Vignes as a witness for the defence, who testified that the conclusions made by McDonald-Burris were not fair and that it was possible that the injuries could have been caused by a fall with more than one impact or more than one fall.
Ramsumair-Hinds rejected his evidence, and ruled she remained absolutely satisfied that the child died as a result of multiple traumatic blunt force and that those injuries were caused by Williams’ unlawful act.
Ramsumair-Hinds, in keeping with the rules governing judge-alone trials, gave her decision 14 days after she heard the testimony of the last witness, and did so in writing, also in keeping with the legislation. She also gave an account of the judge-alone trial process and outlined the procedural safeguards prescribed by Parliament in such cases.
The judge also noted that despite claims that trial time could be lost if the judge had to give reasons in writing, and could not sit on a trial while doing so, puzzled her since “it fails to appreciate the full remit and ethic of efficient judges, who are quite capable of professional time management.”
She admitted that while anomalies do exist, and remained just that, with proper use of the Criminal Procedure Rules and good case management, these and similar concerns were addressed and what remained was “essentially an issue of the judge’s acumen.”