By LAMECH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
A MAN facing life imprisonment for inappropriate contact and the rape of a 12-year-old girl walked away from the Supreme Court with a seven-year sentence yesterday.
Senior Justice Jon Isaacs told 23-year-old Ovando Knowles he did not think the case warranted the maximum penalty for the actions that took place from 2009 to 2013.
After receiving the sentence that was reduced to five years and nine months due to his time on remand, Knowles asked the court if he could be held in the medium security section of Her Majesty’s Prison.
“Where you are placed is a matter for the prison,” the judge replied.
Knowles was convicted of indecent assault and unlawful sexual intercourse, which he denied from the day of his formal arraignment in the Supreme Court.
The girl claimed the molestation began when she was seven and ended when she was 10. The incidents happened in New Providence and on a Family Island, she said.
The girl claimed she kept silent about the alleged abuse because Knowles threatened to kill a relative of hers.
A formal complaint was made to the police after Knowles allegedly molested her for the last time in June 2013, when she told a family friend that he had forcibly kissed her and squeezed her bottom.
The girl, when cross-examined, denied that her mother coached her to make up the sexual assault claims.
Knowles, in his defence, admitted that he was known to the family and saw the girl on the day when she alleged he groped and kissed her. He strongly denied having contact with her.
Knowles also denied making the admissions to the police.
The jury took less than two hours to arrive at their unanimous guilty verdicts.
Knowles’ lawyer, Keith Seymour, requested a probation report be submitted on his client before the court deals with sentencing.
The judge ordered this be done, but noted that such reports took at least six weeks to be completed.
In yesterday’s proceedings, Janice McKenzie, a senior probation officer at the Department of Rehabilitative Welfare Services, informed the court that persons interviewed with respect to Knowles had spoken of his drug use.
However, they expressed disbelief that he committed a sexual assault against a child because it was out of character for him, she said. She also noted that he had not broken any rules at the prison since his incarceration.
The probation officer told the judge that the victim was coping, but was still haunted by the incidents.
Ms McKenzie said Knowles maintained his innocence and showed no true remorse for his actions.
In a plea of mitigation on behalf of his client, Mr Seymour said that Knowles, as shown by the probation report, had a good relationship with his mother and other relatives. He added that Knowles also attended church prior to his incarceration.
“Though my client maintains his innocence, we do accept the guilty verdict of the jury,” the lawyer said, adding that his client had co-operated with police from day one.
“We are humbly asking and begging the court to impose a reasonable sentence,” the lawyer concluded.
“The jury,” Senior Justice Isaacs said to Knowles, “had been satisfied that you had sexually abused her. While I have heard what your counsel has said regarding leniency, there’s nothing to indicate that you expressed any sort of sorrow as to the experience the victim went through, if not at your hands, someone else.”
“Your honour, I did tell the probation officer that,” Knowles claimed.
“In any event, sir, the events provided a life-long scar on the virtual complainant,” the judge said. “The maximum penalty for this offence is life imprisonment. I’m not of the view that life is called for in this case.”
Senior Justice Isaacs did, however, refer to the Court of Appeal’s decision in the case of Richard Campbell, where it was noted that matters of sexual assaults involving children should carry at least seven years imprisonment.
The judge acknowledged Knowles’ youth and lack of antecedents prior to the conviction, adding: “I’m satisfied that seven years at Her Majesty’s Prison is the appropriate sentence for the offence you committed.”
Knowles was also given 15 months in jail for the indecent assault to run concurrently with the penalty for the charge of unlawful sexual intercourse.
Knowles will serve five years and nine months in jail from yesterday because he has already spent 15 months on remand.
“That is as lenient as the court can be given the circumstances,” Senior Justice Isaacs added.