Manslaughter plea is accepted

Tonie Miguel Rodriguez appeared in Grand Court on Tuesday to answer the charge that he murdered Aaron William Berry at the Everglo Bar in Bodden Town on 23 February 2008.

Rodriguez answered ‘Not guilty to murder, but guilty to manslaughter by reason of provocation.’

Crown Counsel Nicola Moore told Justice Karl Harrison the plea was acceptable. Sentencing was set for Thursday morning, 7 August.

Tonie was 20 at the time of the incident; Aaron was 21.

Aaron died after he was stabbed in the neck.

The court was told there was antagonism between young men from Bodden Town and East End, apparently related to an incident a month earlier when somebody danced with somebody else’s girlfriend.

There was a broad consensus of what happened inside the Everglo. Aaron broke a bottle on Tonie’s head, either by throwing or hitting. Then Aaron and a friend were on the ground grappling with Tonie. There were kicks and punches and a knife appeared, although where it came from was a mystery, said Defence Counsel Jonathan Goldberg QC.

Tonie said the knife was on the floor and he picked it up.

If the matter went to trial, the jury might accept that one of the attackers had taken the knife to the scene, Mr. Goldberg suggested.

Tonie had received a significant but not long-lasting injury, he pointed out.

Aaron received two superficial knife wounds. The third severed an important vein next to the jugular vein. He died about 15 minutes later, after driving himself to the centre of George Town.

After Tonie heard the news, he surrendered himself to police.

Mr. Goldberg outlined these facts before Tonie entered his plea. The attorney explained a new procedure, established in England, by which a judge is asked if he is willing to give an indication of what the sentence would be if a plea were entered that the Crown was willing to accept.

He described the procedure, known as a Goodyear direction, as beneficial and sensible and said it is now part of the common law in England.

Justice Harrison was being asked if he would indicate the sentencing range he would have in mind if Tonie pleaded.

Ms Moore said for the procedure to work the Defence has to submit in writing the basis on which the plea is entered. This had already been done, she indicated.

The sentencing judge should also have a victim impact statement, she said. This would have to be obtained from Aaron’s father before sentencing took place.

Ms Moore said the judge should also receive information about the general tariffs for the offence. She provided two. One was a Cayman case in which a woman received five years after stabbing her husband. The other was a UK matter for which the tariff was between four and eight years after trial.

Mr. Goldberg handed up tariffs from a sentencing advisory council in England. The tariffs referred to various degrees of provocation. He suggested that for Tonie the range would be between zero and four years, with a starting point of three years before the judge heard mitigation.

Justice Harrison said he would indicate a range of four to five years, based on what he had heard so far.

Mr. Goldberg and his instructing attorney, Mr. Nicholas Dixey, spoke with their client while other court business took place. They then returned and asked for the plea to be taken.