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Funeral attackers found guilty and fined $750 each

Funeral attackers found guilty and fined $750 each
THIS SCREEN SHOT of a video clip filmed at the funeral of Jetonnia Stephens shows several women surrounding and shielding widower Paul Stephens (centre) as a gang of men attacks him with stones and other implements. One man with a large stone in hand (at left), is blocked by two women, while another man takes aim with a large piece of wood (at right).

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IN A CASE that may possibly be the first of its kind in the jurisdiction, four persons found guilty of disturbing an assembly lawfully engaged in a religious ceremony, have been fined $750 each.

The legal minds involved in this case who have decades of experience combined, could not remember any similar charges being brought -at least during their careers.

Senior Magistrate Rickie Burnett, revealed last week that his search for similar cases in St Vincent and the Grenadines(SVG) turned up nothing.

Jeronza Thomas, Kazim ‘Meds’ Alexander, Junior ‘Trunkie’ Charles, and Dane Daniel were all convicted last Tuesday, March 16, after a full trial examining multiple offences, including causing disturbance to an assembly engaged in a religious ceremony, to wit the funeral of their relative Jetonnia Thomas.

This unique charge came about as a result of a vigilante style confrontation that these four men were found to have committed on May 27, 2018.

As cousins and the brother of the deceased, they seemed to have formed a plan to attack the deceased’s former romantic partner, Paul Stephens, at the graveside of Jetonnia. The group wielded objects such as a board, block and stones in an attempt to hit Stephens, after being triggered by a howling sound.

Some female funeral goers surrounded Stephens and shielded him from the assailants.

The moment that the attack occurred was the moment of ‘crowning’. There had been some disagreement between defence and the state about whether the funeral had actually ended or not by the time that the incident took place. However, it was found that from the evidence of the Pastor, it had not.

The four men were also convicted for possession of an offensive weapon, and the unlawful and malicious wounding of Stephens.

In handing down his sentence the magistrate considered many things, including that the background to the offence was that it occurred at a funeral where persons were gathered to pay their last respects and to commiserate with the family. It was a joint enterprise. The place of occurence, a burial site, had some sacredness attached to it, and it may be deemed to be a safe place. The men were also armed with weapons.

In terms of the nature of the injuries, Stephens received a 1cm by 1cm; and 1cm by 2cm wounds. There was a small hematoma in the scalp. However, they were head injuries and in assessing these,

it was noted that effects sometimes do not appear until much later.

The plea in mitigation from defence counsels Dr Linton Lewis and Ronald Marks was also regarded.

Lewis had joined with Marks in the mitigation that the four had acted out of love. The deceased was beloved by them and they had believed rumours that Stephens abused her, and caused her death. Jetonnia was found to have died from heart failure.

“…we would lying to ourselves if we don’t say that we understand, at least some part of our human soul, understand what a normal person goes through when you hear that an innocent person that you love was beaten, abused, and eventually led to her death,” as they had believed, lawyer Marks stated last week Tuesday.

Yesterday, March 22, the magistrate also considered the deterrence element, applicable to both the convicted men and other persons who may be considering such actions.

Considering these and other circumstances, Burnett decided to impose a fine of $750 each for the offence of causing disturbance to an assembly engaged in a religious ceremony. The defendants must pay this by June 30, or spend six months in prison.

For wounding Stephens, they each must compensate him $500 by July 30, or spend three months in jail. They were also bonded for this offence in the sum of $1500 for one year, with a default sentence of three months imprisonment attached.

For possession of an offensive weapon, Charles and Daniel, who had past convictions of this nature, were again fined $750 to be paid by July 30, or there will be a default of three months in prison. Thomas and Alexander were bonded for one year in the sum of $1000. In breach of this the default term is three months behind bars.

After delivering this sentence, the judicial officer told the men never to contemplate something like this again in their life.

Some of the men went to extremes to hide their face outside the courtroom: one shielding his face by taking off his shirt and covering his head, one using a piece of paper and another using an umbrella.