Quarrel sparks stabbing
A woman charged with murdering her husband pleaded guilty to manslaughter instead and was sentenced last week.
After considering details of the case against Donnalee Phillips, Chief Justice Anthony Smellie imposed a sentence of five years imprisonment.
He acknowledged that five years might seem lenient to some people because a life had been taken. But the sentence was intended to reflect the fact that the law looks upon such offences much more leniently where there is no intention to kill or to cause serious bodily harm than it looks on offences where that kind of intention exists.
Phillips, 38, was accused of killing her husband, Lenroy Phillips, at their home in George Town on 10 July 2004. She has been in custody since the incident.
Defence Attorney James Austin-Smith told the court that Phillips had wished to enter her plea much sooner, but the Crown had needed time to consider whether the plea to manslaughter was acceptable. He asked the court to deal with Phillips in a way that would reflect new legislation about parole, but the Chief Justice declined to do so. (See New parole law not for court).
Senior Crown Counsel Adam Roberts said Phillips killed her husband with a single knife wound to his neck/shoulder area. The wound penetrated eight centimetres (about three inches). Photographs of the injury were submitted.
The Chief Justice observed from medical evidence that Mr. Phillips’ carotid artery was severed and his lung collapsed.
Mr Roberts said that, according to witnesses, trouble had been brewing between the couple all day. Sometime in the afternoon there was a big argument, but no one seemed to know what it was about. Then the couple appeared reconciled.
But there was another argument in their apartment and Mr. Phillips emerged with the fatal wound already inflicted. The defendant followed him out, accusing him of cheating on her. She was shouting and upset.
By this time, according to a witness, Mr. Phillips was spraying blood. He fell under a tree in the yard. The defendant was walking around, talking to herself.
When someone asked her what had happened, she said she gave her husband ‘a little jook’ and his blood was hot and that’s why he was bleeding so much.
When a police officer arrived, he observed her standing over the deceased shouting, ‘You cheated on me.’ She was playing down the injury, telling the officers her husband would be okay and wouldn’t press charges against her.
Taken into custody, she told police that she loved her husband and he loved her; he would not press charges against her and she would not press charges against him.
The medical report indicated that in the kind of wound Mr. Phillips received, death is usually at the scene. A doctor explained that, because of the placement of the artery, injury to it could not be treated by untrained staff.
Mr. Roberts said it was significant that the injury was from one blow, not a frenzied attack. There was no evidence of any premeditated plan to use violence.
He also pointed out that the defendant, in speaking with a psychiatrist, apparently set out a history of abuse within the marriage. However, while there had been abuse in a previous marriage, such a statement about the Phillips marriage was at odds with witnesses’ observations.
Tests showed that the deceased was negative for alcohol and drugs. Three days after the incident, the defendant tested negative also. But according to information read aloud by the judge, she had described drinking heavily for about 24 hours and using cocaine before the day of the incident.
The defendant’s conviction record showed a history of drugs and violence. In July 1999 she had received four years for causing grievous bodily harm and actual bodily harm to two different people.
Mr. Austin-Smith spoke about the battered woman syndrome and how the defendant had perceived the situation – rowing, then fighting, then her husband getting the better of her. She picked up the knife, stabbed after him and ‘catch him right there.’
In passing sentence, the Chief Justice said Phillips’ guilty plea had been accepted on the basis that she did not intend to kill or inflict serious bodily harm when she picked up the knife and struck at her husband with it.
Her behaviour and comments immediately after the incident were to be regarded as genuine expressions of her state of mind at the time.
The judge said he was obliged to consider that there had been a quarrel, which may even have involved a struggle. But Phillips was not defending herself when she picked up the knife; she did so in anger.
‘You have an ungovernable temper,’ he told her. ‘However sorry you may be about what you have done, however unintended the consequences, no one has the right to inflict harm on another person simply because you are angry.’
The judge said it was his duty to pass a sentence that took account of the circumstances of this offence, but also made it plain to other people of uncontrollable temper that this sort of conduct would not be tolerated by society.
‘However sorry you may be about what you have done, however unintended the consequences, no one has the right to inflict harm on another person simply because you are angry.’
– Chief Justice Anthony Smellie
New parole law not for court
The new Prisons Law amendment that came into force on 15 November provides that a person convicted of a scheduled offence, such as manslaughter, shall serve at least five-ninths of his or her sentence before being considered for parole.
Previously the person could be considered after serving one-third.
Defence Attorney James Austin-Smith asked Chief Justice Anthony Smellie to bear this in mind when sentencing his client, Donnalee Phillips.
Mr. Austin-Smith argued that the defendant would have been eligible for parole after one-third if she had been sentenced before 15 November. It was not her fault that she wasn’t.
He suggested that, if the judge was not prepared to discount the sentence, then the prison authorities could be advised that Phillips should only serve one-third.
The Chief Justice indicated that neither course would be appropriate.
He pointed out that the court imposes a sentence to reflect what is required to meet the justice of the case. The court does not look at how the sentence is to be served, or what deductions maybe given for good behaviour.
In his view, it falls to the Attorney General’s department to give the proper advice to the Prison department as to how the new legislation should be construed.