Cathedral Killers Plead Guilty to Manslaughter!

Francis Phillip (l) and Kim John (file photo)

Francis Phillip (l) and Kim John (file photo)

Twelve years after they were first arrested for causing the death of Father Charles Gaillard and Sister Theresa Egan, Kim John and Francis Phillip have pleaded guilty to Manslaughter. The two appeared in court on Monday February 4th, before Justice Cumberbatch and entered their guilty plea.
Francis Phillip and Kim John were accused of attacking worshippers and setting some of them on fire during New Years Eve Mass (December 31) at the Castries Cathedral (Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception) in 2000. In the process Sister Theresa Egan was killed. Father Charles Gaillard died months later at hospital.
Considered one of the most heinous crimes in the history of the Caribbean region, the case drew international attention to St Lucia. The two accused went on trial for the murders in 2003 and on 16 April of that year were convicted by a court presided over by Justice Indra-Hariprashad. Despite a defense which rested on the insanity plea, they were both sentenced to death on 30 April 2003. Their subsequent appeals against conviction and sentencing were dismissed by the Court of Appeal on 28 May 2004. The men then turned to the Privy Council and were granted leave on 13 March 2006.  Upon review of the case the Privy Council allowed the appeals and stated that the convictions be set aside.
Contained in the Privy Council judgment is a chilling account of a day most St Lucians would prefer never to relive.
Read the judgement: “The events of 31 December 2000, which caused great distress and public indignation in St Lucia, were not the subject of factual dispute.  The appellants entered the Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, the principal Roman Catholic church in Castries, about 7am, while a mass was in progress.  They were carrying jerry cans containing gasoline and timber posts with cloths tied to them which had been soaked with gasoline and set on fire.  They commenced to attack members of the congregation and sprinkle gasoline on them and around the interior of the Cathedral.  Father Gaillard intervened, whereupon John threw gasoline over him and set him on fire.  Sister Egan approached the appellants, remonstrating with them, and John struck her three heavy blows on the head with the timber post which he was carrying.  The appellants fled from the church, but were apprehended and arrested a short time later.  Sister Egan died the same day from brain damage caused by the blows to her head.  Father Gaillard was seriously burned and sustained in consequence a pulmonary embolism on 19 April 2001, from which he died that day.”
Sections of statements given to the police were also included in the Privy Council judgement. On 31 December 2000, hours after his arrest Kim John had told police: “The reason why I did that is for equal rights and justice and for the Freedom of my nation.  Around March of this year, 2000, I heard a voice which called out to me twice, “Ises” which is my Rasta name.  The voice came from near. I also heard it from far at the same time.  When I heard the voice, it shook me from within so I fell down on my knees and started to give praise.”
For his part Francis Phillip had told police: “What happen in the church just had to happen and that was the time.”
After looking at the facts in the case the Privy Council remitted the matter to the Court of Appeal, “which should be invited to quash the convictions and sentences.” The Privy Council advised that the Court of Appeal may also deal with any application for a retrial which may be made, the appellants remaining in custody meanwhile.
Since that time the two men have been kept at the Bordelais Correctional Facility. Now, it seems the matter will finally come to a close, as sentencing for the men is scheduled for February 13, 2013.
Speaking with this reporter via the telephone yesterday Director of Public Prosecutions Victoria Charles-Clarke explained the circumstances surrounding the plea.
“Yes, I can confirm that the two have pleaded guilty to Manslaughter,” she said after explaining that by the time the case went back to the Court of Appeal the death penalty was not legally allowed. According to law murder convicts whose appeal last more than five years can only receive life sentences.
“There are various reasons why the Crown decided to accept the plea of Manslaughter,” she admitted, adding that a further statement would be released by her office following the sentencing hearing. Finally she explained that the plea of manslaughter holds the same sentencing as murder of up to life imprisonment.
“So, the outcome would have been the same,” she explained.
The STAR also spoke to lawyer Anthony Alcide, who represented Francis Phillip about the final outcome of the case. Kim John was represented by lawyer Al Elliot.
“We explained to our clients that whether they plead guilty to murder or manslaughter the outcome would be the same,” Alcide told the STAR. “So at least they avoid another trial. It’s life imprisonment for murder and life imprisonment for manslaughter.”
Why didn’t his client plead guilty to murder? I asked.
“They feel that they are not guilty,” Alcide said. “They lack the intention to commit murder; they did not plan to do that.”
The lawyer added that to his mind this case had taken too long to come to a conclusion.
“People have just been passing the buck. Everybody is afraid, they are scared of the case. We just wanted to make sure we did the right thing,” he said adding that he thought the Crown accepted the Guilty to Manslaughter plea partly because another trial would have been very costly.
“That trial would have taken a long time. I don’t think the Crown was afraid of losing the case and the accused men in the case made a voluntary confession,” said Alcide adding that to his mind Kim John and Francis Phillip were not pressured in any way to plead guilty.
“At the end of the day we came to a compromise,” he said.
For his part Alcide said he was not overly concerned about the public response to the plea.
“I have a job to do and I will do my job,” he told me. “I was appointed to represent my client and if I had to go to trial I would.”
At the Wednesday February 13 sentencing both the Crown and the Defense will make submissions to Justice Cumberbatch on the matter of the fate of the men now famously known as “the Cathderal killers.”
The Roman Catholic Church has yet to release a statement on the latest developments.

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