By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE COURT of Appeal has dismissed the case of a man seeking to contest his 41-year sentence of hard labour for murdering the mother of his child at their workplace on a Family Island almost seven years ago.
Appellate Justices Jon Isaacs, Stella Crane-Scott and Roy Jones dismissed Rashid Dean’s sentence for murdering Oneika Johnson at the Club Med Resort on San Salvador in August 2011, after finding that none of his 15 grounds of appeal had any merit.
According to the written ruling, on August 14, 2011, at about 7am, Johnson reported to work at the Club Med Resort on San Salvador where she worked as a security officer. While at work she was seen by other staff members on the property making checks on a bicycle as she normally did.
Sometime after 9am, she spoke with Everette Jackson, the owner of the security company she worked for, who had come to check on her. Shortly thereafter she was discovered dead by an employee, Dessario Walker, who was passing the security booth.
Peter Butler, a co-worker from the laundry department, received information that caused him to go to the security booth, where he saw Johnson lying on the ground. He thought she had fainted so he tried to get in to assist her but the door was locked.
He smashed a side glass window and cut his hand on the broken window in the process. He had to receive medical attention as a result.
The police subsequently arrived and were able to enter the booth where they found Johnson with blood on her. A doctor came and pronounced her dead at the scene. She had 16 stab wounds.
Dean, the father of her young child, was arrested days later on August 19. He was later charged with murdering Johnson. However, in his trial before Justice Indra Charles, Dean denied killing the victim.
During trial, the jury heard evidence from Dr Caryn Sands, a pathologist at the Princess Margaret Hospital, who said that of the 16 cuts and stab wounds Johnson sustained, two stab wounds on the right side of her neck and two that punctured her left lung were the most fatal, because of the significant bleeding caused.
Dr Sands also noted those wounds were likely to have been caused by a knife. She said the cuts found on Johnson’s forearm and fingers were consistent of a person defending herself from such an attack.
On September 14, 2011, Dean was convicted of Johnson’s murder and on February 26, 2014 he was sentenced to 45 years’ imprisonment, which was reduced to 41 years after the judge discounted four years to reflect the 41 months he spent on remand.
At the time, the sentencing judge noted the victim’s family wanted Dean to be sentenced to death. However, she said the Crown had not sought the ultimate punishment, but had “to send a message of deterrence, particularly in the wake of rising violent crime against women.”
Dean subsequently appealed his conviction and sentence, initially relying on 15 grounds. However, his attorney Murrio Ducille abandoned four of them.
The grounds of appeal included – but were not limited to– that Justice Charles erred in law when she failed to order a mistrial notwithstanding the fact that both the electronic and written media had reported that she ruled that Dean had a case to answer and the caption read “no acquittal for murder accused”; and that his sentence is “manifestly harsh and excessive”.
Regarding the former, Mr Ducille submitted that Justice Charles erred when she failed to declare a mistrial and discharge the jury after it was reported in the news that there was “no acquittal for murder accused” following the unsuccessful no case to answer submission by the appellant.
He submitted that after such a publication it was impossible for the appellant to receive a fair trial particularly since the judge was quoted as saying the prosecution’s evidence was compelling.
However, the appellate judges said while they echo the statement of the trial judge that it was unfortunate the report appeared both in the print and electronic media, they noted the reports were carried in only one newspaper and on one broadcast channel, and that the publicity was “not sustained nor pervasive”.
Additionally, the appellate judges noted how Justice Charles quizzed the jurors on whether they read or heard the “offending reports,” and they all said they did not. And even if they had, the appellate judges said, the occasion “would not have necessarily called for the discharge of the jury and the declaration of a mistrial.”
“In the premises, we find no favour with this ground; and insofar as the appeal depends upon it, it fails,” the appellate judges wrote.
Regarding the latter ground, that his sentence was unduly harsh and severe, the appellate judges said they did not find “any error of principle” disclosed on the record in the judge’s sentencing remarks, and neither did they find the sentence imposed by her was unduly harsh and excessive.
“We are satisfied that this appeal should be dismissed as none of the grounds have any merit,” the ruling said. “Thus, we affirm the conviction by the jury and the sentence imposed by the judge.”