Judge: Penalty should be incarceration

DAVION Vassell, the attorney representing Alten Brooks — driver of the ill-fated truck that crushed seven-year-old Benjamin Bair to death on his school grounds in 2019 — on Friday made a last-ditch attempt to convince Supreme Court judge Justice Leighton Pusey that a suspended sentence could be punishment enough for his client who has shed copious tears over the death of the lad.

Vassell, in arguing that the judge, based on the law, had “a plethora of options” other than a custodial sentence for a first-time offender who has pleaded guilty, asked the court to consider what he said was “the trend over the years as it relates to matters of this nature and the way the courts have been dealing with these matters in the form of non-custodial sentences.

Bair, on Monday, October 28, 2019 was on the compound of the Clan Carthy Primary School in Kingston waiting to be picked up when the tragedy unfolded.

Justice Pusey had reiterated at the start of the sentencing hearing on Friday that “based on the circumstances the court is firmly of the view that the penalty should be incarceration” for Brooks, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter and has been awaiting sentencing as the case did not go to trial due to the fact that a plea deal was struck between the prosecution and the defence in the matter.

While noting that he understood the difficulties the accused man, who from the onset declared that he cannot “manage prison”, may face, Justice Pusey said the court had a responsibility to also indicate to the society the standard for “this sort of action”, adding that the system is one where whatever he determined at the end of the matter could be tested elsewhere (Appeal Court).

Justice Pusey had last Monday indicated that the court would be rejecting the sentence recommendation in the plea arrangement struck between the defence and prosecutors, stating that he was having trouble with the sentencing recommendation for a non-custodial sentence based on an aspect of the social enquiry report in which a particular admission was made by Brooks.

Vassell had, at the time, asked for the matter to be adjourned to Friday to allow for him to take further instructions from his client as to the way forward.

Returning on Friday, Vassell indicated that he would be moving forward with the process and would address the difficulty expressed by the judge during his sentencing address.

Vassell, in his address, said while his client had admitted to using the stick on the accelerator on multiple occasions in order to keep the truck throttling while he was on the outside, in relation to the day in question “many things are blurred to his mind” and he could not remember all the details.

He went on to argue that the fateful day was an off-schedule day for Brooks, who had been called by the owner of the truck to assist with clearing the garbage, which had piled up, for the school. Vassell, in pointing out that there had been no intention on the part of his client to cause harm to Bair, said, “This man was called in to help a situation and in doing so found himself on the wrong side of the law…no good deed goes unpunished. The vehicle is not his, he was merely doing his job.”

Admitting that the vehicle was “defective” in several ways, Vassell emphasised that his client, who has “accepted responsibility” for what transpired, does not have a pattern of offending and has never run afoul of the law.

Bair’s mother, Japhene Campbell, who had sat glumly throughout the proceedings with a pained expression on her face, lost the battle when a prosecutor read into the records of the courts the facts relating to what unfolded the day her seven-year-old son was killed. When her son’s full name was called, she squeezed her eyes shut, turning her head away briefly. When the prosecutor detailed how the truck overturned, crushing him, she held her head upwards, one hand cupping her jaws before using a white rag to wipe away the tears that began to flow.

When his cause of death was read, she sobbed quietly, composed in her grief, pursing her lips and blinking furiously.

The gangly, white-haired Brooks, clad in his customary grey T-shirt and pale blue jeans, which lingered inches above his ankles, wiped his hands over his gaunt face looking slightly dazed at the end of the hearing.

The matter was adjourned to January 26 when Brooks will be sentenced.

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