By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
THE COURT of Appeal has not only rejected the appeal of a man seeking to challenge his 10 year prison sentence for a fatal armed robbery in 2012, but has imposed a sentence twice as long as the original after the Crown cross-appealed the appellant's “unduly lenient” sentence.
Court of Appeal President Dame Anita Allen, with fellow Justices Jon Isaacs and Stella Crane-Scott, dismissed Ramon Nottage’s appeal of his conviction and sentence for the 2012 armed robbery and death of Akyto Smith, and simultaneously substituted a 20 year sentence for the crime.
The appellate judges, in a written ruling, said while the country’s second highest court “would not lightly interfere” with a sentence imposed by a trial judge, the sentence imposed upon Nottage fell “below the scope of disagreement that courts may experience on the issue of an appropriate sentence.”
Thus, the judges noted that Nottage’s previous 10-year sentence “does not adequately reflect the seriousness of the offence”, the aggravating factors of the case and does not “represent a deterrent in the circumstances of this case.”
According to the ruling, Nottage was convicted for armed robbery by a jury in a trial before then Supreme Court Justice Roy Jones in July 9, 2014.
Sometime around 9am on February 15, 2012, Akyto Smith left home in his green, 1998 Honda Accord, after having told his paramour he was going to sell the rims on his car. At about 2pm he was seen driving on Cowpen Road following a black Honda Accord.
The deceased’s vehicle subsequently stopped on that road, a man got out of the black Honda Accord and got into Smith’s vehicle.
At about 9:30pm on the same day, a vehicle fitting the description of the deceased’s was seen positioned on the eastern side of Sir Milo Butler Highway with its hazard lights blinking. A passer-by saw the vehicle, became concerned and eventually drove his vehicle to the eastern side of the highway and made a check of the vehicle. While doing so, the passerby released the vehicle’s trunk latch from the interior of the vehicle and discovered Smith’s body in the trunk.
An investigation into Smith’s death was consequently initiated. During those investigations, Nottage and his brother and co-accused Rashad Nottage were arrested. A Royal Bahamas Defense Force Marine was also interviewed by police. The ruling noted the RBDF officer may have initially been considered a suspect but he nonetheless gave evidence for the Crown at the trial.
The RBDF marine testified that around 6:30pm on February 15, 2012, he received a phone call from his co-worker, Rashad, who asked the RBDF marine to meet him at his (the marine’s) residence. When the marine arrived at his home Rashad was waiting with his own car parked in the yard. Rashad asked the marine to take him to his mother’s residence in Stapleton Gardens.
While there, Rashad told the marine to follow Nottage who had emerged from a track road through bushes across the road from the residence driving a green vehicle later identified as the deceased’s. The marine and Rashad followed Nottage to the eastern side of the Sir Milo Butler Highway, where the marine observed Nottage position Smith’s vehicle by the “big rocks”. Nottage then got out of Smith’s vehicle, leaving the hazard lights on and ran to the marine’s vehicle.
While driving away, the marine asked Nottage what was going on. Based on what was contained in his statement to the police, Nottage said Rashad had contacted Smith and asked him about selling his rims, and that both he and Rashad met with Smith and told him they would take him to the person interested in purchasing the rims.
According to the marine, Nottage told him they took Smith to Cowpen Road where Rashad, who was being followed by Smith and Nottage, pretended that something was wrong with his vehicle and subsequently drove onto the shoulder of the road. Smith followed suit and got out of his vehicle to assist Rashad. A short time later Smith returned to his vehicle where he was shot by Nottage.
At the close of the prosecution’s case, the trial judge concluded that there was no evidence to support the charges concerning Rashad and instructed the jury to return a unanimous verdict of “not guilty”, which it did.
On July 9, 2014, the jury, by a verdict of 10 to two, convicted Nottage of armed robbery—a mistrial was declared on the murder count as the jury returned a verdict of 10 to two guilty. A sentencing hearing was heard on September 3, 2014, at which time the judge, having heard counsel on the issue of sentencing, and having considered the probation report compiled by a Probation Officer, sentenced Nottage to 10 years in prison.
The sentence took into account the 11 months Nottage spent in custody on remand.
On July 21, 2014, Nottage filed a Notice of Appeal which the COA ruling said “wrongly asserted” that he had been convicted of murder. He later filed an amended Notice of Appeal on September 15, 2014 which reflected the proper offence he was convicted for. The grounds, six in total at the time, remained unchanged.
However, on March 18, 2016, almost two years later, Nottage filed another amended Notice of Appeal which added a new ground six, resulting in the old ground becoming ground seven. On April 27, 2016, Nottage’s attorney Murrio Ducille advised the appellate court that an amended notice of appeal had been filed.
On June 28 of that same year, Nottage filed another amended Notice of Appeal, and during the consequent hearing on July 19, Mr Ducille made another application to further amend Nottage’s grounds of appeal. According to the COA ruling, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Garvin Gaskins “foreshadowed” his objection to the application, and the matter was adjourned to July 28, 2016 with an admonition that Mr Ducille file and serve the amended notice by July 22, 2016.
Despite the court’s order it was not until July 28 that another amended Notice of Appeal was filed, which set out an additional fourth ground.
Mr Ducille later sought to again amend his client’s ground of appeal, and was granted leave to do so. The hearing was adjourned and on September 26, 2016, Nottage’s “Re-Re-Re-Re amended” Notice of Appeal was finally before the appellate court for its considerations.
All of Nottage’s grounds of appeal ultimately failed, and the appellate judges consequently dismissed his appeal.
Nonetheless, on September 17, 2014 the Office of the Attorney General, the respondent in the matter, filed an appeal against what it charged was an “unduly lenient sentence” imposed on Nottage. The COA ruling noted that Mr Gaskins “urged upon the Court in the present appeal” that an appropriate sentence would be “one within the range” of 20 to 25 years.
In conclusion, the appellate judges unanimously concurred that Nottage’s sentence was “unduly lenient”, and simultaneously approved the Crown’s cross-appeal.
“Thus, we are constrained to set aside the judge’s sentence of 10 years and, although cognizant of the need not to deprive the appellant of all hope, impose a sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment,” the ruling said. “The sentence is to run from the date of conviction.”