By LAMECH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE expected sentencing of two ministers after being found guilty of giving a 15-year-old boy liquor to get him drunk did not occur yesterday in the Magistrate’s Court.
Arsenio Butler, 30, and Devin Sears, 28, appeared before Magistrate Andrew Forbes for the penalty phase of their trial having been found guilty of “child cruelty” where it was alleged that they gave a teenage boy alcohol “in a manner likely to cause injury to his health” between January 31, 2014, and February 1, 2014.
Their sentencing had been adjourned for four days to allow their lawyer Romona Farquharson-Seymour an opportunity to present character references and a plea in mitigation on their behalf.
However, Mrs Farquharson-Seymour was not present when the matter was called prompting the magistrate to ask Crown prosecutor Cordell Frazier to make attempts to contact the attorney.
After a recess, Ms Frazier informed the court that she had a telephone conversation with the lawyer who reportedly said her office had informed the magistrate’s staff at 9.30am that she was under the weather and requested a short adjournment.
Magistrate Forbes said he had received conflicting reports concerning that missive and noted that he hoped the attorney would be well enough by Friday, January 27 to clarify what happened.
He added that the sentencing would proceed if she or another representative from her firm were not present.
Magistrate Forbes said he was also aware of a notice of appeal having been filed by the Office of the Attorney General even though the case had yet to be concluded. This too, he said, also will be addressed on that date.
Butler, a pastor-elect, had been separately charged with indecent assault, after it was alleged that he had put his hand down the teenager’s trousers. Both pleaded not guilty to the charges in their first Magistrate’s Court appearance in February 2014.
Magistrate Forbes, in October 2015, determined that a sufficient case had not been made by the Crown for Butler to answer to the charge of indecent assault when considering the second of two statements given to police by the complainant.
The alleged assault was only referred to in the second statement. During testimony, the complainant and police were at odds about where the statement was taken.
The magistrate discharged Butler of the assault charge.
However, the court ruled that Butler and Sears must answer to the remaining charge of “child cruelty” based on the evidence produced by the prosecution.
In a 12-page ruling handed down last Friday, Magistrate Forbes referred to an event that occurred following the decision, which he said had never occurred before.
“It is noted at this point that a remarkable event occurred which this court has never before witnessed; a letter was directed by the Crown to the court clerk inviting this court to reconsider its verbal ruling advising that it had discharged the defendant Butler of the indecent assault charge,” the magistrate’s ruling noted.
“This is clearly inappropriate as the avenue open to any aggrieved party is to file an appeal. Further, is this not an infringement of the separation of powers and why would the executive seek to direct the court to its findings given its rights of appeal?”
“This court sincerely trusts that this is not a practice and will not become to be repeated in this or any other court,” the magistrate stressed.
Butler and Sears were nonetheless convicted of the “child cruelty” charge after the magistrate found that their evidence was not convincing.
“If one accepts all they have said, two adult men elected to transport a minor out after 11pm,” the magistrate said. “It is clear they were irresponsible. And then suggest that the minor was somehow leading them in this foray. The evidence of the virtual complainant coupled with evidence of the virtual complainant’s mother and the opinion of the doctor suggest that he was plied with substances which caused the effects that were observed.
“This court accepts the evidence of the virtual complainant that he was given alcohol by these two individuals, the reasons are unclear but this court accepts that he was provided the substance by Mr Butler and Mr Sears,” Magistrate Forbes ruled before convicting them of child cruelty.
The pair could face a fine and/or imprisonment.