A young man hit in the head with a tree branch lost his sight in one eye as a result, Justice Roger Chapple heard earlier this month.
The guilty person was 16 years and nine months old – three months shy of being considered an adult in court – when the incident occurred. Given several legal issues involved, the judge adjourned sentencing until Monday, Oct. 15.
Defense attorney James Stenning had asked the judge to determine whether the defendant should be publicly named, given his age at the time of the offense. He also asked that the U.K. guidelines for sentencing of children and young persons be considered.
On Monday, Justice Chapple said his view was that the defendant was now an adult: It seemed to him he had no power to restrict reporting of the defendant’s identity, Allan Lester McKenzie. However, in terms of sentencing, he said the right approach was to consider the age of the offender on the date of the offending. For a person of Mr. McKenzie’s age, the sentencing should be “offender-focused,” he said.
Crown counsel Kenneth Ferguson provided the background to the charges.
On Dec. 12, 2016, the complainant/victim was in a West Bay yard with others when Mr. McKenzie rode up on a bicycle. The complainant did not pay much attention until a female shouted, “Watch out!” He turned his head and felt himself hit hard. He fell to the ground, felt blood and could not see out of his right eye.
He was taken to the hospital, where an ophthalmologist operated on him. Damage included a complex laceration of the cornea, resulting in the loss of sight in that eye. There was also the possible risk of sympathetic ophthalmia – problems developing in the good eye because of trauma to the other eye.
Mr. Ferguson told the court that the victim, 19 at the time, had not been able to access requisite medical attention because he had no insurance. His medical bill “as a result of the defendant’s actions” had been $13,055 as of August 2017.
The prosecutor said it was accepted that Mr. McKenzie had hit the other young man with a piece of tree branch without intending to blind him. He had pleaded not guilty to a charge of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. On the second day of trial, when the Crown added a charge of simple wounding, he entered his guilty plea.
Mr. Ferguson had described the defendant and complainant as friends. Mr. Stenning said, no, they were only acquaintances. Neither counsel gave any explanation for what had happened.
In mitigation, Mr. Stenning asked the court to consider his client’s guilty plea, his genuine remorse and keenness to pay compensation, and the time he had spent on curfew. He outlined Mr. McKenzie’s early life difficulties, but said the young man was always willing to work although he lacked skills; he fished when possible to make extra money.
The attorney urged the court to consider community service. Clearly, he noted, no compensation order was going to be enough to compensate the victim for his loss and the defendant did not seek to minimize the dreadful impact of what had happened.
In passing sentence, Justice Chapple said an adult would have realized that hitting someone about the head with a tree branch would result in serious injury. The question was – what difference did Mr. McKenzie’s age make?
After summarizing submissions, he imposed a sentence of nine months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years. Hearing that Mr. McKenzie now had a job and was earning $6 per hour, he ordered payment of $5,000 compensation at a rate of $150 per month. He further ordered the defendant to perform 60 hours of community service, attend an anger management program and follow the directions of his probation officer.
The judge said his sentence reflected credit for the 18 months Mr. McKenzie had spent on curfew, as well as 25 percent for the guilty plea. He said the injury to the victim had been devastating, not only physically, but the young man’s ambitions had been shattered.
“If you had been a man in your twenties, I would have been sending you to prison for a long time,” he told the defendant.