By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
AFTER a 14-year delay, a 54-year-old man was finally sentenced to prison yesterday for stabbing his common-law wife to death in front of her mother and children over a decade ago.
Justice Renea McKay sentenced Leo Roderick Johnson to 11 years behind bars for stabbing former Tribune employee Ericka Fowler to death on August 19, 2006.
The sentence is to take effect from February 11, the day Johnson admitted to killing Fowler and pleaded guilty to manslaughter. The time he spent on remand, just over a year, is factored into the prison sentence, Justice McKay said.
Johnson's sentencing marks the end of a 14-year wait for justice for Fowler's family, who have been awaiting some sort of closure over their loved one's death since Johnson snuffed out her life.
Johnson has since expressed remorse for killing Fowler, the mother of five of his seven children, as he previously told the judge: "On August 19, 2006, my life turned around mostly on my own behalf, because I should have been stronger."
According to Justice McKay, Johnson also said he wished he could go back in time and undo what happened that night.
Ericka Fowler, a former librarian and archivist at The Tribune, was 33 years old when she was fatally stabbed. She died from her injuries in the street in front of her parent's Comet Terrace home in Golden Gates on a Saturday night.
According to Justice McKay, on that fateful night, Ericka and Johnson got into a heated argument sometime after Johnson had gone to her parents' home where Ericka and the children were staying. The reason for the argument is not clear, but Johnson maintains that he was provoked.
Johnson ended up dragging Erika outside and stabbed her in her throat and about the body with a sharp object that police believed was a knife.
Four of Ericka's five children, as well as her mother, witnessed the crime.
Johnson turned himself into the Cable Beach Police Station the next day. He was charged with unlawfully killing Ericka days after her death on August 24, 2006.
Johnson was arraigned before the Supreme Court on July 27, 2007. However, the case was left dormant until 2014, when a trial date was set for October 24, 2016 before then-Senior Justice Jon Isaacs.
In October 2016, Johnson tried to have the proceedings stayed permanently because of the 10-year delay in bringing the case forward, which he asserted breached his constitutional right to a trial within a reasonable time.
However, Justice Isaacs ultimately ruled that "on a balance of probabilities, a fair trial can be had despite the delay and breach of the applicant's constitutional right to a trial within a reasonable time."
Johnson entered a guilty plea to manslaughter when he appeared before Justice McKay last Tuesday.
At the time, his lawyer Crystal Rolle, in making a plea of mitigation on her client's behalf, submitted that he suffered some form of diminished responsibility in the situation as he claims he was provoked. Additionally, Ms Rolle said Johnson had stable employment prior to the incident and had a spotless record.
The defense attorney further noted that after committing the offence, Johnson was on bail for 15 years and did not have a single legal infraction.
Ms Rolle also said that Johnson has since apologised to each of his children and sought to financially assist them to the best of his ability.
For those reasons, Ms Rolle asked the court to temper justice with mercy and consider imposing a non-custodial sentence on her client.
However, Crown attorney Kristan Stubbs asked for a prison sentence of 18 years, charging that Fowler's death was a brutal one primarily because she was defenseless and unarmed.
Ultimately, Justice McKay ruled that in all of the circumstances of the case, Johnson should receive a custodial sentence of 11 years.
After being sentenced, Justice McKay asked Johnson if he had anything to say to her. Johnson paused for a moment, before stating: "Ms Rolle could speak for me, because I (will) choke up."
Ms Rolle then told the court that while housed in maximum security at the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services awaiting his sentence, Johnson was denied the opportunity to take a bath until he came to court yesterday.
Justice McKay said such claims were "unfortunate" and "regrettable". She said she would have her clerk address the matter with the head official at the Fox Hill facility.
Ms Stubbs, meanwhile, asked the court to make a recommendation to the correctional facility that Johnson be housed in medium security for the duration of his sentence. Justice McKay said she had "no difficulty" doing so.
Before being led away by two officers to start serving his sentence, Johnson was allowed to hug several of his loved ones, the majority of whom were in tears at the outcome.
Fowler's son, Tanrio Fowler, 26, last week said his family was desperate for closure.
"Honestly, it's been like a nightmare, you know," Mr Fowler said. "It's like all the years done past. I ain't forget about (it), but it's like no justice was coming out of it. So, I decide whatever happen, happens so just leave it and move on with my life.
"And, then it coming back up, it just waking me back up to the tragic day you know. It's a delicate situation and it's not like something happened between strangers. This a family matter. This a domestic matter. This mother and father and kids. People just look at the fact that this a bad person and you know, you need justice but it's deeper than finding justice it's a mental thing."
Last week, Director of Public Prosecutions Garvin Gaskin explained to The Tribune why his office had been willing to accept an admission of manslaughter by Johnson rather than to proceed with the original charge of murder.
He said given the delay in getting to last week's hearing, which merits a reduction in sentence and bearing in mind Johnson's version of events, the Department of Public Prosecutions settled on accepting a manslaughter plea.
"When it was brought to my attention, you have to be mindful of a number of factors," Mr Gaskin said. "The (convict) has had a charge hanging over him for nearly 15 years, not for any fault on his part.
"His constitutional right has clearly been infringed. The law speaks to a reduction in sentence because of the delay in getting to trial.
"There is never any kind of happy medium in these kinds of things. The reality is he was saying there was significant provocation - she treated him badly, infidelity, throwing it in his face," Mr Gaskin added. "There was a little more to it than a husband who just decided to brutally murder his wife."
Mr Gaskin also said there was an established sentencing guide in murder and manslaughter cases and in his matter the Crown had asked for an 18 year sentence. He said in "extreme circumstances" where a defendant has previous offences or crimes of violence the sentence can go up to 35 years.
He added: "If things had been different we would have clearly have wanted more but taking into account all of the issues we said we would do what we did."
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