By LAMECH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
THREE men who were convicted of the murder of American sailor Kyle Bruner during his attempt to prevent a robbery of two visitors were spared the death penalty yesterday.
Justice Indra Charles had been urged by the Crown to sentence Craig Johnson, 23, Anton Bastian, 22, and 24-year-old Marcellus Williams to death for their role in the events that led to Bruner’s fatal shooting on May 13, 2013.
Instead Johnson was sentenced to 45 years imprisonment for murder and 12 years for each of the two counts of armed robbery of which he was convicted.
His fellow convicts, Bastian and Williams, received 40 years for murder and 12 years for armed robbery.
Their sentences were ordered to run concurrently from the date of conviction. They were credited for the time spent on remand. All three have been in custody since May 2013.
In the sentencing hearing yesterday, she acknowledged the seriousness of the offences and the circumstances under which the killing occurred, but determined that other cases with more egregious circumstances did not see the death penalty imposed or affirmed by higher courts.
Last November, a jury returned unanimous guilty verdicts for Johnson, Bastian and Williams for Bruner’s murder. The three men were further convicted with 32-year-old Jamaal Dorfevil on two counts of armed robbery as they were alleged to have held up two women while armed with a firearm, robbing one of $150 cash, her $3,000 handbag and the other of cash, a handbag and an iPhone.
Justice Charles noted that the cases of Simeon Bain and Peter Meadows were useful authorities in helping her arrive at a decision.
“Both were dealt with by the Court of Appeal and the rationale of the Court of Appeal is that they qualify for the death penalty. In the instant case, based on the (statute) law, it does qualify for the death penalty. I’d go further to say it also qualifies for life (imprisonment) because that is what the law says, death or life.”
“Even if the court is going to impose the death penalty, there should be some starting point. To say that we must not look to common law in this case is not helpful,” the judge said on that point previously raised by the Crown.
Meadows was convicted and initially sentenced to death in 1988 in the murder of Deanette Strachan, who was fatally shot during an armed robbery of a convenience store.
In 2014, his commuted life sentence was reduced to 35 years’ imprisonment after he relied on the Court of Appeal’s ruling in the case of Angelo Poitier where it outlined a range for murder cases where life imprisonment was not warranted.
The court noted that Meadows was 23 at the time of his conviction in 1988 and was a person of good character up to that time.
In the case of Bain, the 44-year-old had his life sentence reduced to 55 years by the Court of Appeal for the throat-slashing murder of former Burger King restaurant manager Rashad Morris.
Justice Charles, in yesterday’s sentencing decision, stressed that the court had to consider the nature and gravity of the offence, character of the person, conduct or influence that caused the murder as well as the convict’s prospect for rehabilitation.
The judge came to the conclusion that Bruner’s murder was not as outrageous or premeditated as the case of Simeon Bain who seduced his victim as part of a plot to kidnap him from the Charlotte Street location of Burger King, took him to the Tonique Williams-Darling Highway location where he had been the manager and stabbed and slashed the man’s throat in the restaurant’s parking lot after failing to get access to the safe inside the store.
Justice Charles also recalled the opinion of psychiatrist Dr John Dillard that a person was capable of being rehabilitated the younger they were.
For those reasons, along with the request from Christina Cataldo - Bruner’s sister - that the killers be spared the ultimate punishment, Justice Charles said: “This court will not impose the death penalty on any of the three defendants.”
Concerning Dorfevil, the judge recalled that he, based on the evidence, “was the driver of the getaway vehicle and he didn’t know of the presence of the firearm.”
She noted that a conviction of robbery carried a sentence of up to 14 years imprisonment.
Justice Charles said she considered a number of cases to arrive at a reasonable sentence.
She noted Dorfevil had no previous convictions and expressed remorse for life that was lost. She also acknowledged that his former employer said he would rehire him and commended him for taking a course while at the prison and received a certificate during his remand.
Dorfevil was sentenced to six years in prison on each of the two counts of robbery. The sentences will run concurrently from the date of conviction. He was credited for the time spent on remand, which is three years to date.
All four convicts denied having any involvement in the armed robbery and the killing of Bruner, who was shot in the neck as he tried to help two women who were being mugged by two armed men.
They testified that they were at home on the early morning in question and had been lied on and assaulted by the police, who produced videotaped interviews of Johnson, Williams and Dorfevil taking officers through the crime scene.
The jury heard evidence from Sean William Cannon, a first mate aboard the Liberty Chipper sailboat, who witnessed the shooting and later identified Johnson during an identification parade.
The Crown also submitted the police statement of another witness, Delano Smith, which implicated the remaining accused men concerning the crimes.
Johnson, Bastian, Williams and Dorfevil were represented by attorneys Mr Smith, Roberto Reckley, Walton Bain and Sonia Timothy respectively.
A fifth accused, 21-year-old Leo Bethel, had all charges discontinued against him by way of a nolle prosequi within moments of Justice Charles concluding her summation of the evidence. He was defended by Ian Cargill.