‘Senseless’ killings

Supreme Court Judge Justice Leighton Pusey, in saddling taxi driver Andre Thomas with two life sentences for the 2016 murders of American missionaries Harold Nichols and Randy Hentzel on Friday, said he had “struggled to find” factors that would lessen the St Mary man’s culpability for the “senseless” killings.

Justice Pusey who had outlined several aggravating factors (circumstances that aid in determining the severity of a sentence) in handing down the penalties said, “I struggled to find mitigating factors for Mr Thomas, and I will merely say that I haven’t identified many in relation to this crime”.

“This is a matter in which a life sentence would have to be the appropriate sentence; we would have to consider a life sentence with a minimum time before parole being 20 years because there are two murders. When I consider the aggravating factors, the circumstances of the murder, his unwillingness to take responsibility and the brutality of the acts itself, one man was shot in the head and the other was shot and chopped, I think I will add 10 years to that 20 years. That means that for each count he would be sentenced to life imprisonment with 30 years before parole,” the trial judge said. Thomas was, however, given a reduction of four years because of time spent on remand, making it so that the time spent behind bars before he is eligible to apply for parole would be 26 years.

The sentences are to run concurrently.

Thomas, who was in July this year declared guilty by a jury for the murders of two US missionaries in 2016 in St Mary, had maintained throughout his four week-long trial that despite observing the murders, he did not participate in the killings. His co-accused and cousin Dwight Henry who had taken a plea deal, and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole until after 28 years, had testified against Thomas, saying that he killed only one of the men, while his cousin shot and chopped the other.

Harold Nichols, 53, and Randy Hentzel, 49, were missionaries for the Pennsylvania-based Teams for Medical Missions. They went missing on Saturday, April 30, 2016, after leaving their Tower Isle, St Mary, homes on motorcycles to visit a site where they would be doing charity work the following week.

When they did not return a search party later that day discovered Hentzel’s body lying face down, his green helmet still over his head, with his arms bound “tightly” behind his back by a piece of cloth torn from the green T-shirt in which he was clad. Nichols’ body was found some distance away on the Sunday afternoon.

Justice Pusey, in noting that the facts of the case are “well known” and “unfortunately notorious”, said that while there had been conflicting statements from both men as to the extent of Thomas’, involvement in the murders, what was clear to the jury was that “Mr Thomas was present and that he was a willing participant”.

“I will have to proceed on the fact that he was present and a willing participant…we heard from relatives and witnesses who told the court that these were very good people…this is a killing without reason, this is a killing which damaged not just the two gentlemen and their families but also damaged our country in many ways in terms of the work they were doing,” the trial judge stated.

During the four week-long trial, the Crown had called 23 witnesses to support its case, the defence only called Thomas, who gave an unsworn statement saying that despite observing the murders, he did not participate in the killings.

Thomas was represented by veteran defence counsel Leroy Equiano and Althea Freeman.

Equiano on Friday, in a brief plea in mitigation, said his client’s only admission in relation to the crimes was that he had “made a big mistake” which was being in the company of his cousin. Equiano, in refraining from making any recommendation as to an appropriate sentence for his client, stated “it is too much for me…so unfortunately I have to leave that to you”.

Thomas, the court also heard, had been convicted for sex with a person under 16 in 2017 while on remand for this crime. He had been given a suspended sentence for that offence. Community members gave a negative account of the cab driver’s lifestyle in the social enquiry report compiled by probation officers ahead of sentencing.