Four years for robbery of visitor

A night-time encounter on the beach led to charges of robbery and assault causing actual bodily harm. The incident occurred in the vicinity of old Pageant Beach sometime after 3am on 22 June 2003.

The defendant, Leburn Prendergast, pleaded not guilty and chose to be tried by judge alone.

Chief Justice Anthony Smellie heard the evidence in May, found Prendergast guilty and adjourned sentencing so that the defendant could be interviewed about his drug addiction and other personal circumstances.

The Chief Justice subsequently passed a sentence of four years imprisonment, and ordered that Prendergast undergo a course of drug counselling., including random drug tests.

The Crown’s main witness was the complainant. He said he had awakened during the night because it was hot and the air conditioner in his hotel room was not working properly. He decided to dress and take a walk on the beach.

There were festival tents on the beach and, as he entered, someone called to him to stop.

In his judgment, the Chief Justice noted that, as the evidence unfolded, it became clear that there was no dispute that Prendergast was the man with whom the visitor interacted. The circumstances, however, were vehemently disputed and the accounts were diametrically opposed.

The witness’ account was that Prendergast approached him and said he was part of a religious group trying to raise money fore the children of Cayman and they had just held a large festival on the site for that purpose. He then asked for a donation.

The witness said he did not believe this, so he said no. But Prendergast became increasingly agitated and demanding. The witness told him he would give a donation if Prendergast would leave him alone. He then handed over CI$5.

By then, the witness said, he was concerned for his safety and tried to sidle away toward the street. Prendergast kept at him and asked when he was leaving the Island. When he replied it was the next day, Prendergast said that since it was so soon, he needed to make another donation.

The witness said he was not going to and he didn’t think Prendergast could make him give any more money.

Prendergast’s response was one of immediate anger. He pulled out a knife, clenched the fist of his other hand and slugged the man on his lips. The witness described the blow as spontaneous, rapid and with such force that he would have been knocked to the ground, if it had not been for his own sturdiness and experience as an amateur boxer.

The witness said he then remembered having a US$20 bill in his pocket and he handed it over.

Prendergast swiped at his abdomen with the knife, but he was able to back away. By this time he was bleeding fairly profusely. He was able to put distance between them until he felt safe enough to run to the nearest refuge – the gas station at the nearby intersection.

Persons there included a police officer, who was on break from mobile patrol. The witness made his report. Later his injuries were photographed. The Chief Justice said that, if they were inflicted as the result of a single blow, they would have without doubt involved the use of considerable force.

Defendant’s version

The Chief Justice noted that the defendant’s version of how the injury was inflicted became one of the more telling aspects of the case.

Prendergast alleged it was the visitor who initiated contact, asking if Prendergast could help him get some cocaine.

When Prendergast said he could get something good for $50, the other man handed over two US$20 bills.

When Prendergast returned with two little pieces of plastic rolled up, the visitor opened one and tasted it. He said it was good stuff, but too small for the price, and started to walk away.

Prendergast said he jumped in front of the other man and said he couldn’t leave until Prendergast was paid for getting the drugs.

The defendant said the man took a boxing stance and said ‘I’ll show you.’ In response, Prendergast leaned back and back-handed the other man. He described this interaction as a flick of his wrist while in a defensive, evasive stance.

The Chief Justice found this to be entirely at odds with the bruising blow the witness had obviously suffered.

In his judgement, he indicated that he had found the complainant to be entirely honest and truthful. If he had needed some independent confirmation of the complainant’s evidence, it would have been provided by this contradiction of Prendergast’s evidence by the physical evidence of the injury.

The Chief Justice rejected Prendergast’s version as implausible and contrived.

At the sentencing hearing, Attorney John Furniss spoke as amicus for Prendergast. He said the defendant admitted his extensive record of drug offences, along with some convictions for offences against property.

The Chief Justice pointed to one conviction for violence against a person, a charge of wounding.

Mr. Furniss replied that it was relatively early in the defendant’s history and was the only such conviction on his record. Everything else was drugs or drug-related.

He pointed out that Prendergast had written a letter to the visitor in which he apologised for the assault. The Defence had always indicated that the assault was to be admitted.

In passing sentence, the Chief Justice said the impression he had was that Prendergast had been impelled to commit these offences because of his drug problem. The letter had been skilfully written and phrased, consistent with the judge’s impression of Prendergast as an intelligent, articulate man.

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