By LAMECH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
TWO men were spared the death penalty yesterday in the double murder and kidnapping of a Department of Immigration officer and his girlfriend in Andros.
Zintworn Duncombe, 28, and James Johnson, 22, appeared before Justice Indra Charles to learn their fate for their respective roles in the murder and kidnapping of Shane Gardiner and his girlfriend, Tishka Braynen, in 2013.
Duncombe, who was found at trial to be the mastermind behind a plot to take gambling winnings from the immigration officer and his girlfriend, was sentenced to 60 years imprisonment at the Department of Correctional Services.
Johnson, an accomplice to the killings, was
sentenced to 55 years imprisonment for his part.
Duncombe, Johnson, Daniel Coakley, 28, and Cordero Saunders, 26, were all unanimously convicted of double kidnapping, conspiracy to commit armed robbery and attempted armed robbery on March 29, 2016.
The Crown had sought the death penalty for Duncombe and Johnson.
Gardiner and Braynen were killed after a failed plot to take $8,000 in gambling winnings from the immigration officer. Braynen, of Cargill Creek, and Gardiner, who lived in Love Hill, both in Central Andros, were reported missing around 1.45pm on November 24, 2013. Gardiner had recently been assigned to the island. On December 21, 2013, police in Andros discovered the remains of a man with “items related to a female.”
At a hearing in November, the prosecution argued that the case met the “worst of the worst” threshold set out in the 2011 amended Penal Code for the discretionary death penalty to be imposed.
Darnell Dorsett said the victims, based on the testimony of Terrel Mackey, were taken to Newbold Farms where Duncombe and Johnson, armed with handguns, demanded money from Gardiner.
“Duncombe shot Shane Gardiner in the head when Gardiner maintained that he had no money. Braynen started screaming and Duncombe shot her to the head execution style,” the prosecutor added.
Ms Dorsett reminded the judge that the pathologist said that based on Gardiner’s wound, his death was not immediate and so there was evidence of suffering.
“They were taken in the dead of night to a very eerie place of Newbold Farms. There’s no lighting at all in that area. We urge the court to take into consideration these two contributing members of society were taken hostage and one month later, hog hunters happened upon their remains. But for the grace of God, their remains may have not been found, leaving the affected families without closure,” the prosecutor said.
She said the court also had to consider whether there was a prospect of reform for the convicts and stressed that there had been no expression of remorse from either Duncombe or Johnson which, according to psychiatrist Dr John Dillard, is the first step to rehabilitation.
Jerone Roberts, one of two lawyer’s for Duncombe, argued that the case did not warrant the imposition of the death penalty as it did not fall within the “worst of the worst” threshold set out in prior rulings by the Privy Council.
Mr Roberts also stressed to the judge that the psychiatrist could not definitively say that the two convicts were beyond reform, which is a hurdle the Crown must get over in order for their application to succeed.
The judge yesterday acknowledged the 2011 amendment to the Penal Code, which followed the Privy Council’s decision in the Maxo Tido case, which notes that only certain types of aggravated murder are currently punishable by death. These include murder of a law enforcement officer; murder of a judicial officer, including judges, registrars and prosecutors; murder of a witness or juror; murder of more than one person; murder committed by a defendant who has a prior murder conviction; and murder in exchange for value.
The amendment further provides that any murder committed in the course of/or in furtherance of a robbery, rape, kidnapping, terrorist act, or any other felony is punishable by death, with no explicit requirement of intent to cause death.
She also said she had to consider the case on its own merits and whether the circumstances determined it to be the “worst of the worst” and “rarest of the rare” as well as their reasonable prospects for reform as presented in a probation and psychiatric report given to the court.
“As I’ve stated before that the facts of the case are chilling, gruesome and cold-blooded,” the judge said.
Justice Charles said the circumstances of the case did meet the “worst of the worst” threshold. However, concerning the second factor she had to consider, she said that as the psychiatrist could not definitively speak to their prospect for reform, coupled with their relatively unblemished records prior to the date of conviction, she could not impose the death penalty.
Ultimately, Duncombe and Johnson were respectively sentenced to 60 years and 55 years imprisonment for the murders.
All four convicts were sentenced to eight years incarceration for the kidnapping, 10 years for the attempted armed robbery and 15 years for the conspiracy to commit armed robbery.
Their sentences, which will run concurrently, will take effect from the date of conviction.
Duncombe, Saunders, Johnson and Coakley, who all maintain their innocence, were each represented by lawyers Ian Cargill, Moses Bain, Donna Major and Terrel Butler.
Patrick Sweeting assisted Ms Dorsett in prosecuting the case.