Supreme Court Judge Justice Leighton Pusey, in banishing St Catherine mechanic Robert Fowler to life in prison for the killing of 20-year-old accountant Khanice Jackson, said the man — who will not be able to apply for parole before he is 74 years old — used the trust of the young woman and abused it, brutally murdering her.
“The death of every Jamaican is significant, but this particular crime sees the loss of a young and seemingly promising life, somebody who was working and attempting to study,” Justice Pusey said, noting that the callous act had “shocked the nation”.
Jackson, a resident of Independence City in Portmore, St Catherine, went missing on March 24, 2021 after leaving home for work. Her body was found in a ditch on the Dyke Road in St Catherine two days later.
Shortly after, Fowler — with whom she had travelled to work at times — was arrested and charged.
On Thursday, Justice Pusey, in stating that Fowler could not be sentenced to less than life behind bars for the brutality of that murder, took pains to point out that although parole was prescribed under law, Fowler — when that time comes — “will have to show that he has in some way amended his ways and has acted in a way that shows he is suitable to rejoin society”. Furthermore, he emphasised that even if the parole board finds he is suitable, he would be supervised.
In a deftly handled sentencing exercise, the judge, from a starting point of 20 years, added 12 years for the aggravating factors before subtracting for the mitigating factors which included the mechanic’s guilty plea, lack of prior conviction, good character and the two years already spent in custody, arriving at 22 years and 11 months.
“This is a case in which the sentence will be a life sentence and the reason for that is, there was ample and compelling evidence, he was a person of interest from the outset when Jackson was only reported as missing, the scratches on his back, the items found at his home belonging to her, along with other material,” Justice Pusey said, noting that even before forensic testing indicated that Fowler was a person of interest, “there was strong circumstantial evidence”.
Under the Offences Against the Person Act Fowler could not be sentenced to less than 15 years or life imprisonment with parole.
Justice Pusey was at pains to point out that although Fowler had admitted guilt in the murder, the court was not minded to give him the full discount for that guilty plea as the mechanic was not remorseful.
He said the court could not accept Fowler’s indication of remorse as he appeared to be attempting to shift blame from himself, contrary to his initial admission of guilt, pointing out that in the social enquiry report Fowler admitted to a different version of events than what was in his caution statement, and made mention of the presence of a third party.
Justice Pusey said, in coming to his decision, the “court considered the loss and grief caused by the crime, the peculiarity of the crime and the circumstances of the accused.
The judge, in the meantime, noted that the serious societal implication of the crime is that it has led young women to believe that they cannot accept an act of kindness from a neighbour without losing their life.
He said Fowler’s action “strikes at what is essential to us as Jamaican people, as a society, which, with all our faults, is very friendly and helpful”.
“This is a young lady who believed this was a neighbour who was helping her,” Justice Pusey said.
Fowler — clad in a blue shirt, black short pants and slippers — sat erect, barely moving, his arms folded across his midsection at times or draped between his legs, his masked face inscrutable but for his furrowed brows.
By his own admission, Fowler had said that on the day in question he picked up Jackson on Passage Fort Drive in Portmore. He said during the journey they quarrelled over a promise he had made three weeks prior to give her money to buy something for her boyfriend’s birthday. He claimed he had defaulted on the pledge because he was under pressure at work and things had been hard for him.
He said when the argument continued he turned his car around and told Jackson to take a bus to work. Fowler claimed that he then parked the vehicle on the road to Caymanas, climbed from his seat to the back seat of the car, drew Jackson over and strangled her until he “saw froth coming from her mouth and she had stopped moving”.
He then drove the vehicle with her body to Forum Fishing Village where he bound the hands and feet and left the body in an abandoned building. About 7:30 that same evening he went back for the body, placed it in his vehicle and took it to the Dyke Road where he left it in a ditch. The following morning he took her handbag to the market in Cross Roads, St Andrew, where he emptied the contents into a garbage bin.