Paul Gordon successful in Court of Appeal
The Cayman Islands Court of Appeal last week reduced the sentence of Paul Ricardo Gordon from 11 years to eight years for manslaughter.
Gordon had admitted in Grand Court that he fatally stabbed Sherman Alvin Bodden, a well-known disc jockey and radio personality who performed as Jazzy B, in March, 2009. Initially charged with murder, Gordon was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment for manslaughter on the basis of provocation (Caymanian Compass, 29 September 2009).
The circumstances were aired at the sentencing hearing. On Gordon’s version of events, he was provoked by Mr. Bodden when the two men encountered each other at a woman’s home. Gordon’s relationship with the woman was apparently estranged, but not completely severed, although Mr. Bodden may have been led to believe that the relationship was over.
Gordon had moved out of the home by March 2009, but returned from time to time to retrieve property. He was there when Mr. Bodden arrived and a confrontation ensued. Neither the woman nor her helper saw who struck the first blow; Gordon said Mr. Bodden hit him first and there was medical evidence to show trauma to his mouth.
Gordon carried his work knife with him at all times. He pulled it out and stabbed Mr. Bodden five times in the chest and once in the back, then kicked him while he was on the floor. He stayed at the scene until police arrived and made a full confession.
In passing sentence, Chief Justice Anthony Smellie had used a starting point of 15 years, which was similar to other sentences for manslaughter in recent years. He then gave credit for Gordon’s guilty plea, his remorse and early admission of guilt. The chief justice did not accept that provocation had been severe.
In presenting Gordon’s appeal, Attorney Nick Hoffman submitted that the starting point of 15 years was too high.
The appeal judges agreed. In their judgment last week, they wrote: “We have taken into account what are said to be the special circumstances prevailing in this jurisdiction. In our view, those circumstances do not provide sufficient reason for the Courts of the Cayman Islands to differ so substantially from the approach set out by the Sentencing Guidelines Council in the United Kingdom.
“We are satisfied that, in a case of manslaughter by reason of provocation involving the use of a knife, where the degree of provocation is low and has occurred only over a short period, the appropriate starting point after a trial, in this jurisdiction also, is 12 years within a sentencing range of 10 years to life.”
One point they emphasised came from a UK case: “The same general sentencing principles should apply in all cases of manslaughter by reason of provocation irrespective of whether or not the killing takes place in a domestic context.”
The judges said Chief Justice Smellie was plainly correct in identifying the aggravating factors in this case – the carrying of a knife and the ferocity of the attack. He was also correct in identifying the mitigating factors – genuine remorse, co-operation, immediate acceptance of responsibility, and the testimony of character witnesses as to his honesty, hard work and diligence.
However, Mr. Hoffman had submitted that Gordon did not get sufficient credit for his contention that he did not seek confrontation with Mr. Bodden. He said he was in the home when Mr. Bodden arrived and he was seeking to leave to avoid confrontation when he was struck.
The Chief Justice had made no finding on that issue; in the absence of a finding or an agreed statement of facts, he should have given Gordon the benefit of the doubt.
Balancing all the factors, the appropriate starting point was nearer 11 years than 12, the appeal judges said. Giving the same discount of roughly 25 per cent for the guilty plea, they arrived at a sentence of eight years.
The appeal was heard by President Sir John Chadwick, Justice Abdulai Conteh and Justice Anthony Campbell.