A man charged with torching his sister’s house in March 2015, killing his niece and two nephews, on Tuesday hurled death threats and insults from the dock in the Supreme Court upon learning that his wish to withdraw his guilty plea just ahead of his sentencing could result in further complications.
Phillip McLeod, who was 53 years old at the time of the incident in Arnett Gardens, had been charged with three counts of murder and one count of arson in the deaths of siblings Abigail Reid, 10; Leonardo Morris, 15; and their brother Bebeto Harris, 18.
McLeod had initially pleaded not guilty to the one count of arson and not guilty to the three counts of murder. However, after the trial began in April this year he changed his plea to guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter. The arson charge against him was dropped after that agreement.
He was scheduled to be sentenced on Tuesday by Supreme Court Judge Justice Simone Wolfe-Reece but indicated at the last minute that he again wished to withdraw his plea and instead indicated that he was not at the scene of the incident and had nothing to do with it (a defence of alibi) and had been influenced by his attorney to offer the plea he had.
Upon being informed that he could not be sentenced on Tuesday as the plea withdrawal would need to be decided on by the judge in what might form the basis for a fresh trial and that his present attorney would also not remain on the case, an incensed McLeod — who has been behind bars for nine years — sounded his displeasure.
“If unnuh a sentence mi, sentence mi; if unnuh a let mi go, let mi go. Mi nah go back a no more remand, and anyhow unnuh send mi back a prison, mi nah tek nuh more lick. Any man lick mi dis time, mi a kill dem, an mi done tell yuh sey mi nuh waan kill no one, ennuh,” bellowed McLeod, who expressed a preference for being housed at Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre instead of the correctional facility in Spanish Town.
After being addressed by the judge, who said, “I understand your frustration,” McLeod — who was diagnosed schizophrenic but was declared fit to plead after undergoing two psychiatric evaluations — said, “A kill mi a kill (expletive) people when mi go back a prison.”
Wolfe-Reece, in noting that the situation was unique, raised several questions about the new turn being taken by McLeod in essentially indicating that he did not tell his attorney that he wanted to change his plea in the first instance.
McLeod’s lawyer, in addressing the court, said, “I would ask that his plea be withdrawn and I be allowed to [cease representation]. I don’t want it to be a ground on which an appeal can be made. These are really unique circumstances. We are dealing with an accused who has a particular disability. I believe we should err on the side of caution.”
Wolfe-Reece responded, “I am of the view that it requires certain things to be done from the Crown’s perspective because this is not an ordinary situation. I don’t know if the director [of public prosecutions] has to take a particular approach, it is an agreement, and the matter is in the middle of a trial. I don’t know if it can just be withdrawn… there was an agreement for it to go by way of judge alone. Evidence has been given in the matter and then there was a change of plea. I am not making a ruling that the plea is being withdrawn at this time, but I think that it needs to be explored that if that is an option how would it manifest because we are in the middle of a trial.”
The judge further requested that the defence and the Crown prepare submissions looking at case law in respect of changes of plea and address her.
Those addresses will be made on December 15, following which she is expected to rule.
McLeod, when informed of the court’s decision, shouted at the female cop manning the court room, “Yow gal, come tek mi out, cuff mi! A now mi a go kill people, tek mi outta unnuh court, a now people a go start dead. Unnuh neva know mi have mi phone a prison? A now mi a go kill people!”
The irate man could be heard ranting and raving at the top of his voice in an expletive-laced tirade even after being removed to the holding area by a policeman assigned to the court.