DAMIAN Gomez, Minister of State in the Ministry of Legal Affairs, presented the Juries Amendment Act for debate in the House of Assembly yesterday.
After describing the state of confusion found in the Attorney General’s office in 2012 when, for the second time, the PLP became the government, Mr Gomez outlined a plan to enable the Attorney General’s office to operate more efficiently, and thus assist the Christie government in its fight against crime.
He showed several diagrams to illustrate the inroads that his office had already made in reducing the number of trials still on the judicial calendar. Although, he said, the Ministry was not there yet, it was well on its way to delivering the promised “swift justice”. If successful fewer criminals would be out on bail awaiting trial.
The Juries Amendment Act 2014 “has the ability,” he said, “of enabling the attorney general’s office to improve its efficiencies in the realm and to have an internationally accepted conviction rate which would further the appreciation of public safety and enable our public to feel that the entire government is behind the process of ensuring crime is out and that criminals are hunted down, arrested, charged, tried and if convicted they are sentenced and the temptation to commit crime will be obliterated to demonstrate that crime does not pay and if you do the crime you will do the time…”
“We are determined,” he vowed, “that if persons commit murder they will be found. They will be arrested. They will be charged. They will be prosecuted and if convicted they will be punished. We are serious and we will track our efforts and publicly state them so that the public is with us every step of the way.”
We intend to take Mr Gomez up on that vow. It is only right that this government should bring closure to the Ericka Fowler case because it was a murder that was committed during the first Christie government — August 19, 2006.
We are particularly interested in this case because Ericka Fowler, 33, mother of five, was one of our own. The person accused of her murder, the father of her children, gave himself up, and was charged with murder on August 23, 2006. The case was adjourned to September 27, 2006. He was remanded in custody and released from prison about 14 months later. His case was never heard.
Ericka Fowler was an ambitious young woman with a promising future. She came to The Tribune nine years before through an employment agency. We needed an office cleaner and Ericka fitted the bill. However, we soon discovered that she was a misfit. Ericka was much too smart for the job she was doing. We had never seen anyone so keen to learn. Her smile was infectious and as Ericka, after completing her chores, drifted into the various departments, staff were eager to train her on the computers. Eventually our little cleaner became the assistant librarian. Not only was she an expert at filing, but she was a wonderful organiser and transformed that department. She is still missed.
Ericka filled in on the switchboard, took photographs for the advertising department, moved into the Circulation Department, where she had an early morning route delivering The Miami Herald with The Tribune. Eventually, she started to bring in news stories, which she had written herself. She was described as the “most versatile employee” at The Tribune. She could fill in in almost any department. And at Christmas time she was an expert decorator of our offices.
Ericka Fowler was going places when her life was cut short. Her murder was witnessed by her mother and her children.
Mrs Roselda Fowler, Ericka’s mother, said that on the night of the murder, she, the children and Ericka were at home “when a man came around. He tried to get in the house, and Ericka half way opened the door to him”. Mrs Fowler was in her bedroom when she heard her daughter “and the man fussing and fighting”.
“I went into the kitchen and told them to stop fussing all the time,” she recalled. “He threatened to kill the children right there in the kitchen, but I said he would have to kill me first.” On the man’s insistence, one of the children had opened the kitchen door and let him in.
“Ericka ran outside to get help from a neighbour and he came up behind her, running after her down the road,” her mother said. She was stabbed, then dragged onto the back seat of a car where her throat was slit as her 12-year-old son begged that her life be spared.
The children took their mother out of the car, laid her on the ground, where she gasped for breath, then died. The man, with another man behind the wheel of the car, drove off.
When 14 months later, “the man” was released from prison without a trial we tried to find out on what grounds he had been freed. But, mum was the word — no one was talking. We think we know why, but we leave that for Mr Gomez to discover.
On November 8, 2007, we wrote to the then Attorney General bringing Ericka’s case to her attention. With that letter, we sent Ericka’s diary. If all else failed, if the accused were ever brought to trial, Ericka could speak for herself through her diary.
On December 11, 2008, with a new Attorney General in office we wrote to him bringing Ericka’s case to his attention. He could find no record of the murder. A family member of the accused had boasted to Ericka’s mother that the accused would never go back to court again — hence our 2008 letter to jog judicial memories. We were assured then that Ericka’s diary was still secure.
Our final letter on Ericka’s behalf was on August 27, 2010. It was addressed to the new Director of Public Prosecutions to acquaint her with the case.
One of the many entries in Ericka’s diary states: “He tell me I will not live to see my 34 birthday - that he promises.”
Ericka was 33 when she was murdered. Her file has remained on our desk ever since. And it will stay on our desk until this young woman with such ambition and so many talents gets justice.
We now put this case in the hands of Damian Gomez, Minister of State in the Ministry of Legal Affairs. We shall see how long it will take for him to deliver on his promise.