By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Court of Appeal has shortened the prison sentence of a man convicted of murdering a phone card vendor in 2011 by five years on the grounds the original sentence was "wrong in principle".
Court of Appeal President Dame Anita Allen, who retires this week, along with fellow Justices Stella Crane-Scott and Roy Jones, lessened Rodney Johnson's 60-year sentence to 55, charging that he "ought not to have gotten the maximum determinate sentence".
However, the appellate judges said they had "no lurking doubt" that any injustice was done during trial, and consequently found Johnson's convictions to be "safe".
According to the ruling, on February 26, 2011, at about 10pm, Charles Chrysostome and his brother John Joseph, who had finished selling phone cards earlier that evening, were walking to their home in Domingo Heights.
According to Mr Joseph's eyewitness testimony, as he and his brother approached the door of their house, armed men emerged from behind the door shouting "hey, hey, hey" and demanded he and his brother go inside.
Mr Joseph said he and his brother ran into the house and his brother tried to close the door behind them, but the men held the door and prevented them from doing so.
Mr Joseph ran into a room of the house, while Chrysostome tried to run into another room when the former said he heard "boom, boom" and heard his mother screaming that Chrysostome was dead.
The deceased was shot twice: once in the head and once in the back and died on the spot.
In a record of interview on April 29, 2011, at the Central Detective Unit (CDU), Johnson denied firing the shots that killed Chrysostome, but admitted he was involved in the plan to rob the deceased.
Johnson also admitted knowing his two cohorts were armed with firearms while they waited for Chrysostome to come home, and admitted to accompanying the two armed men into the house. Johnson also admitted he was present when the deceased was shot by one of his cohorts.
On February 23, 2012, Johnson was convicted by a jury in the Supreme Court before then-Supreme Court Justice Jon Isaacs of the offences of murder and attempted armed robbery.
He was sentenced on May 11, 2012, to 60 years imprisonment on the murder conviction and to a concurrent sentence of 20 years for attempted armed robbery.
Johnson subsequently appealed his sentence, charging among other things the sentence imposed by Justice Isaacs was "disproportionate, unduly harsh in the circumstances of the offences" and "likely to bring the system of justice into disrepute".
Johnson further charged the verdict was "unreasonable" and cannot be supported by the evidence, and that the verdict was "unsafe" and "unsatisfactory" regarding the circumstances of the case.
In deliberating on a decision, the appellate judges noted the "cold blooded" nature of the murder, which they said was committed in the course of a "planned armed robbery".
The judges further noted that even on appeal, Johnson showed "no remorse" for the part he played in Chrysostome's death and, apart from the opinion from the probation officer that he was "redeemable" and a first-time offender, the appellate judges said there were "no other circumstances of personal mitigation which called for any degree of leniency".
The appellate judges further noted murder is "one of the most serious offences known to law" and that in 2017 there are "simply too many murders".
Given the "prevalence" of murder, the appellate judges said the court has an "obligation" to "ensure sentences for this offence reflect its seriousness" and demonstrate the "necessity to protect the public from the depredations of armed robbers who would kill in the pursuit of filthy lucre".
However, the appellate judges noted that based on the evidence, Johnson was not the shooter, but still entered the deceased's house along with his "armed and masked associates", and remained there "lending his assistance and support to the common venture".
They also noted Johnson's co-accused Ricardo Brown, who the evidence showed was a part of the plan to rob, had his 60-year sentence reduced to 45 years by the Court of Appeal.
Thus, the appellate judges ruled that while Johnson's initial sentence was "wrong in principle", his participation in the joint enterprise was "greater" than that of Brown's, thus making him more culpable and liable to receive a sentence higher than his co-accused.
"In the premises, I would allow the appeal against sentence and impose a sentence of 55 years' imprisonment with effect from the date of his conviction," Dame Anita ruled with the agreement of her fellow justices.