By LAMECH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
CHIEF Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt yesterday said “it would be a travesty” if a man charged with manslaughter by negligence in connection with his four-year-old son’s shooting death was not allowed to attend the child’s funeral on Saturday.
Wenzel Demeritte and his lawyer, Alex Dorsett, had initially asked for bail on Monday but the hearing had been adjourned to yesterday for the magistrate to consider her jurisdiction but also to have as much information as possible, including background of the accused, in order to give appropriate consideration to the question of bail.
It was argued by police prosecutor Cpl Claudette McKenzie that Demeritte had allegedly committed another crime while on bail for an armed robbery case to be tried in November.
However, the chief magistrate granted the accused $9,000 bail but ordered that he return to court next week where it would be determined if it should be extended.
According to police reports, the boy, Denzil Joshua “Joshy” Demeritte, and another boy, aged 10, were playing with a handgun at his home on Balls Alley when the gun went off and Denzil was shot.
The incident occurred on August 1, shortly after 3pm, police said. The four-year-old was taken to hospital, but died a short time later.
Three days after the incident, the accused was arraigned before Magistrate Andrew Forbes on a charge of manslaughter by negligence – to which he could not plead – and two other charges: possession of an unlicensed firearm and possession of ammunition.
He pleaded not guilty to those charges.
“We’re objecting to bail,” said Cpl McKenzie at the start of the hearing. “Our position is that he’s charged before the court with a serious offence, and not just one.”
Mr Dorsett said his client has “denied that he’s responsible, even if he feels that way”. He said Demeritte has no previous convictions but has a pending armed robbery matter before the Supreme Court.
“You see, one thing I don’t want to happen, there’s a funeral and a riot breaks out,” Chief Magistrate Ferguson-Pratt said.
“The families are close,” Mr Dorsett assured the court. “From what I understand, both families are in mourning and they all see this as a tragedy.”
The police prosecutor interjected that she had not been made aware of the pending matter of the accused before a higher court.
The Bail Act, she said, made provision for denying bail to an applicant who had a pending case.
“And while on bail for that offence (armed robbery), this incident would have occurred. Those are the grounds for the prosecution objecting to bail,” Cpl McKenzie said.
“I don’t want him to be permitted to bail and there’s a retaliation,” the chief magistrate said, “but the factor which is most on my mind is that this is his child and for those of us privileged to be parents, I can understand where he’s coming from.”
After a moment to consider the submissions, the chief magistrate continued with her ruling.
“The defence has made the submission that the defendant ought to be permitted to be admitted to bail based on the fact that this is his son’s funeral, who is the subject matter of the charge, manslaughter by negligence.”
“The court, upon balancing the interests of the Crown and defence, finds that it would be a travesty for the defendant not to be permitted to attend his son’s funeral. In essence, the defendant will be punished, on the face of it, by being charged and also by not being permitted to attend the funeral.”
“The court therefore permits the defendant to bail on the following terms: bail in the sum of $9,000 with two suretors, the defendant is to report to the Wulff Road Police Station each day, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, on/or before 6pm.”
“And he is to return to court on Tuesday at 10am where I will determine if bail ought to be continued,” the chief magistrate added.
After confirming that the funeral will be held on Saturday, at the New Mount Zion Baptist Church on Baillou Hill Road, the chief magistrate then addressed the prosecutor.
“I expect the police will be alerted that he (Demeritte) will be in attendance so that the proper security measures will be put in place,” the chief magistrate concluded.
“Yes, your worship,” the prosecutor said.