Rodriguez gets 5 years for manslaughter

Tonie Miguel Rodriguez was sentenced to five years imprisonment last Thursday after entering a plea of not guilty to murder but guilty of manslaughter by reason of provocation.

He had been charged with murdering Aaron William Berry at the Everglo Bar in Bodden Town on 23 February 2008.

The basis of his plea was that he had been provoked (Caymanian Compass, 8 August).

He said Aaron first hit him in the head with a beer bottle. Then, when he fell to the floor, Aaron and his best friend started beating and kicking him. Tonie said as he was trying to crawl away, he found a knife on the floor and used it.

Tonie was 20 at the time of the incident; Aaron was 21. He died after he was stabbed in the neck.

Justice Karl Harrison had been asked last week Tuesday if he would give an indication of sentence before Tonie entered his plea. This is a procedure in use in the UK since 2005.

Crown Counsel Nicola Moore advised that the basis of the plea has to be in writing and the Crown has to agree. The judge also has to be provided with a victim impact statement and sentencing guidelines.

After hearing the general facts of the case from Jonathan Goldberg QC on behalf of Tonie, Justice Harrison gave a sentence range of four to five years.

There was an adjournment for Tonie to discuss the matter with Mr. Goldberg and Attorney Nicholas Dixey. He then came back and entered his plea.

On Thursday, Ms Moore presented the Crown’s summary of the case. It added details to the event as Mr. Goldberg had narrated earlier.

Ms Moore said Tonie and his friends were colloquially known as the East End Boys. Aaron and his friends were from Bodden Town. There was some ill feeling between the two groups, apparently because Aaron had danced with someone else’s girlfriend about a month previously.

On the night of the incident Aaron went to the bar with friends around 10pm. Tonie arrived with his friends around 11pm.

‘No clear picture emerges from any witness statements as to what exactly happened next,’ Ms Moore said. She suggested this was not surprising, given that witnesses were partisan in their statements ‘depending on whether they were affiliated with to the East End Boys or the Bodden Town Boys.’

Nevertheless, the Crown was trying to summarise the matter fairly, according to all of the witness statements, she said.

Tonie was seen leaving the dance floor with a girl. He complained of being looked at hard by Aaron’s best friend.

One witness saw Tonie walk toward the exit. As Tonie got level with the bathroom, the witness saw Aaron’s friend nod his head as if giving a sign to somebody. He then saw Aaron with his hand in the air and a Heineken bottle, which he threw at Tonie. The bottle hit him in the head. As soon as he was on the ground, Aaron and his friend were in a fight with him.

Other witnesses told of hearing bottles break and seeing people on the ground fighting.

One witness said she saw Aaron and Tonie face to face with each other outside the bar. She said she saw Tonie with something in his hand brining it down onto Aaron’s neck. She was the only witness to see this.

But something must have happened inside, Ms Moore said, because the janitor was immediately dispatched to clean the floor, on which there were broken bottles and blood.

After the fight, Aaron said the blood on his shirt was Tonie’s. ‘I licked him with a bottle,’ he reportedly told his friend.

Aaron then drove about a half-mile toward George Town. He did not know he was mortally wounded, but began to feel unwell. He asked his friend to take the wheel.

Near the roundabout by the Baptist Church on the way to George Town, life began to slip away. Aaron told his friend, ‘I love you, brother.’ He must have had a resigned expectation of his death, Ms Moore commented.

Taken to hospital, Aaron was pronounced dead at 1am. He had a superficial wound to his arm and chest. The wound to his neck was 2 ¾ inches deep. This stab severed a large vein, resulting in Aaron eventually bleeding to death.

Cause of death, the court heard earlier, was clinical haemothorax, the accumulation of blood inside the chest.

Tonie also left the bar and went to George Town, to a friend’s house. He explained what had happened and his friend persuaded him to go to police. He did so around 4.30 am and gave a caution statement. Later he gave an interview.

He said his intention when he found the knife was to hurt Aaron, but he never meant to kill him.

Ms Moore then read a victim impact statement from George Berry, Aaron’s father. The letter explained that Mr. Berry had been his son’s sole caregiver from the time Aaron was four. They were like brothers and had played football together for Bodden Town.

Mr. Berry described Aaron as well-mannered, not violent, involved in the church, not into drugs and rarely drinking alcohol. After Aaron died, he said, ‘My appetite for food went, as did my appetite for life.’

He asked for justice for his son.

Mr. Goldberg, instructed by Attorney Nicholas Dixey, spoke on behalf of Tonie. Sadly, he said, not just one family had been affected by this tragedy. He said Tonie was a young man of almost good character who did not go out that night seeking violence, but violence was thrust upon him.

In passing sentence, Justice Harrison said after looking at the totality of evidence he fully agreed that a plea to manslaughter was in order because provocation was an issue.

In his view, the sentence would have been six to eight years after trial, the judge said.