Youth workers Larry Levers and Michael Anthony Stewart, charged in the drowning death of a 14-year-old boy in their care, were cleared Thursday of manslaughter charges.
A Grand Court jury of four men and three women deliberated for approximately two and a half hours before returning unanimous not guilty verdicts.
Risco Batten died in the water off South Sound on 29 Nov. 2015 while on a supervised fishing excursion from the Bonaventure Boys Home, a government-owned facility that houses boys between the ages of 13 and 16. The teenager had entered the home nine days prior to his death.
During the trial, the court heard that Levers and Stewart were supervising the trip and had taken Batten and a group of other boys first to the ironshore by the Cayman Turtle Centre, in West Bay. As sea conditions deteriorated, they relocated to the George Town waterfront and then to South Sound, near the South Sound Cemetery, where the boys entered the sea.
The jury was told that neither of two youth workers entered the water after they realised the teenager had gotten into difficulties because neither them could swim.
Levers and Stewart were adamant that the trip was not a swimming trip, but was only a fishing excursion.
Both Levers and Stewart initially were also charged with cruelty to a child, but that charge was not put to the jury.
After the jurors delivered their not guilty verdict on the manslaughter charges, the prosecution offered no evidence on the charges of cruelty to a child and the judge declared the two men not guilty of that charge also.
Levers burst into tears and wept when the verdict was released, while Stewart, with his head lowered and eyes closed, released a sigh of relief.
Following the verdicts, Justice Philip St. John-Stevens thanked all those involved in the case.
“This has been a deeply sad case,” said St. John-Stevens. “This court has listened to the evidence surrounding the tragic death of a 14-year-old boy. This court does not wish to pass judgement on the evidence or the verdict, which speaks for itself.”
He added, “This court wishes to pass on its condolences to Risco Batten’s family, especially to his father who attended the proceedings.”