Hill sentencing hearing begins

Sentencing proceedings of Cayman Marl Road administrator Sandra Teresa Hill began in Grand Court Thursday, with the prosecution calling for prison time and restricting her internet usage.

Hill was convicted on 6 Aug. following a judge-alone trial on charges of misusing an information and communications technology network to abuse and harass businessman Matthew Leslie.

The charges stems from a podcast and online posts made by Hill in February 2019, in which she levelled several allegations against Leslie. Those allegations included details about his marriage and other aspects of his personal and professional life.

Crown prosecutor Darlene Oko called on the court Thursday to focus on the principle of deterrence.

“The law … sets out a custodial sentence for up to two years and a fine of up to $20,000, which we say should be applied as the court sees fit,” Oko told Justice Roger Chapple.

- Advertisement -

“The law also sets out a further provision to make an order that would bar Hill from utilising the ICT network to further harass Leslie,” she added.

When outlining the aggravating factors that would merit the proposed sentence, Oko said, “This was a planned and sustained attack against the complainant’s character… and was not a lapse of judgment. There were multiple attacks that caused [Leslie] significant embarrassment, and Ms Hill has shown no remorse or contrition. This points to a pattern that is not outside of her character.”

Oko told the court that Hill’s determination and resolve to continue to harass Leslie would only be curbed if the court intervened.

The prosecutor said, “The day after your Lordship returned your verdict, the defendant made a live video in which she said, ‘When it comes to Matthew Leslie, everyone knows that my position has not changed. If they think that I’m going to stop because of this verdict, then they are going to have to make a permanent cell at Fairbanks, and engrave my name in it because I’ll go there and make government feed me.’”

Pointing to Hill’s previous run-ins with the law, Oko told the court that in 2015 Hill was convicted of a similar offence where she misused an ICT network to harass her partner at the time. Oko said Hill threatened him and forwarded harassing messages to his employer.

Oko added that Hill had lost a civil suit filed by Leslie, who also won an injunction to have her remove libellous content against him from her website.

Hill, who is representing herself, said there was “a campaign to get her and shut her down”. She said she’d had numerous “run-ins” with the DPP over the course of 10 years, and had successfully defended all except the most recent case involving Leslie.

“I do not believe that this conviction, and the facts surrounding it, have crossed the custody threshold,” said Hill, who pointed to other cases that involved threats and acts of violence, where those defendants were not imprisoned.

Then turning her attention to Leslie, Hill said, “Mr. Leslie might think he is unique, but in fact, I have written articles about many other people who have committed similar offences; this was not an attack against Leslie.”

Hill produced 65 written character references, in addition to witnesses who appeared in court to vouch for her, including Bodden Town West MLA Chris Saunders and George Town Central MLA Kenneth Bryan.

“I might not agree with everything that she says or does, but she plays an important role in our democracy, which is still young,” said Saunders. “As a public official, I believe we should be called out for when we have done wrong and be held accountable.”

Oko asked Saunders, “So, as a public official, an elected official, are you saying that it is OK for someone to publicly label someone as a paedophile… who has not been convicted, and to do so without due process?”

Saunders responded, “I agree that the word allegedly should have or could have been used. I believe in the justice system, not the legal system, and when people no longer trust the authorities to report the matters, then they turn to people like Cayman Marl Road.”

Oko repeated her question about labelling someone who hadn’t been convicted.

“If you choose to become a public official, as Leslie did when he ran for politics, then there are things that come with it,” said Saunders, suggesting that Leslie should have taken the matter to civil court, not criminal court.

Hill then told the court, “Regardless of how you might view Cayman Marl Road, we are in the space of media.”

It was a point supported by Bryan.

“As a former journalist, I understand the rules and principles that govern the industry,” he said. “Ms Hill is not a typical reporter, but she is a reflection of the changing media industry across the world.”

He added, “Ms Hill plays a very important role in our society, which is touching on many taboo subjects that affect our society.”

Hill is expected to continue her submissions on Friday, after which a sentencing date will be announced. Her bail has been continued.

- Advertisement -

Support local journalism. Subscribe to the all-access pass for the Cayman Compass.

Subscribe now