Justice Kenneth’s Benajmin’s ruling in the Criminal High Court on February 9, 2011 made history in St Lucia. Police Constable 5 Lester Remy attached to the Castries Criminal Investigation Department of the Royal St Lucia Police Force was the first police officer to be shot and killed while executing his duties. Mitchel Joseph alias ‘Bage’ of Ciceron is the first person to be given the death penalty in relation to such an offense.
“Everyone in the courtroom please stand,” commanded Justice Benjamin. Solemnly he continued: “Mitchel Joseph, the sentence of this court upon you is that you be taken from this place to a lawful prison and then shall face an execution and that you dare suffer death by hanging and may the Lord have mercy on your soul. Take him out.”
Joseph’s brown and blue striped dress shirt was a blur as he bounded down the stairs of the prisoner’s dock, taking the stairs two at a time. Fist pumps and hisses of relief resounded through the court. Crowding the courtroom were members of the legal fraternity, members of the media, the Remy family, police recruits, representatives from the Police Band, Special Branch, Vulnerable Persons Team, Criminal Intelligence Unit, Police Prosecution and Criminal Investigation Department. The Remy family was overwhelmed with emotion.
The only people absent were the defendant’s family. The STAR later discovered the family was too intimidated to come into the courtroom because of the heavy presence of unwavering police supporters during the trial, the sentencing submissions and the sentencing decision.
The defendant’s attorney Al Elliot spoke to the STAR after the sentencing concluded. “What troubles me through all of this is that he was whisked away. I didn’t even get a chance to see him, far less speak to him after the sentence was handed down. The family has not been in the courtroom through all of this. They have been around the premises of the court. They have been intimidated by the large presence of police officers in the court. Nearly every seat was occupied by the police.
“So the family members have not had the opportunity to witness anything to do with the case. It concerns me because the family is very withdrawn and very intimidated. It is the right and responsibility to stand in solidarity with their loved one, whether he is right or wrong.”
Elliot went further to tell the STAR he got an early sense from the judge’s response to the defense submissions that the death penalty would be imposed. Preparing for the worst, the defense counsel and his client have already identified grounds on which they will appeal. Elliot filed notice of the on Thursday February 10.
The case has been a controversial one with opinions and emotions running high. Twenty-seven-year-old Remy was killed on April 27, 2008 while trying to apprehend Joseph. The STAR covered the two- week trial. On December 6, 2010, now 30-year-old Joseph was found guilty of capital murder. Director of Public Prosecution Victoria Charles-Clarke had conduct of the matter and at the trial’s conclusion indicated orally to the court the Crown would be seeking the death penalty.
Sentencing submissions for and against the imposition of the death penalty on Joseph were heard on February 3, 2011. The DPP highlighted Joseph’s troubled childhood as outlined in a pre-sentencing report. He is the fifth of nine children. His mother had separate unions with nine different men. His sibling all knew their fathers except for him.
Joseph dropped out of school at the age of fourteen and has been in trouble with the law since. He started off by keeping bad company, sold marijuana and gambling. At the age of twenty, he had his first and only child. During the child’s life, the pre-sentence report revealed, Joseph played little role as a father. Joseph has been arrested and served sentences for Possession of a Firearm, Using a Firearm with Intent, Grievous Harm, Wounding and Escaping Lawful Custody on two occasions. According to her, the defendant’s pattern of violence indicates there is no prospect of rehabilitation. Further, she argued Remy’s death was uncalled for and the defendant’s blatant disregard for the law is evident by him discharging a firearm while Remy was just three feet away. Remy’s injuries were so serious that pathologist Dr Stephen King gave evidence in court that even with medical intervention Remy had little chance of survival.
Elliot counter argued claiming his client has begun the rehabilitation process since his incarceration in 2008. He appealed to the court not to sever the link between this father and his already troubled son for fear the court would be enabling the vicious cycle of absentee fathers. The defendant expressed remorse at Remy’s death and Elliot believes this should be used in his client’s favor.
In the end, the judge ruled: “The defendant’s conduct is undoubtedly influenced in large measure by his unfortunate childhood. However there is no indication he is willing to forego his criminal behavior in the future. This court is not satisfied with the expressions of remorse. The defendant acknowledges he has not been a good example to his young son yet he has not taken the next step of demonstrating a willingness to display wholesome conduct in the guidance of his offspring. In discussing that I have already embarked on the possibility of reform and social re-adaption and in addressing these matters, it is my considered view the defendant has not shown any indication of rehabilitation and reform. This court considers this offense to be of a heinous and grave nature that is an assault on the authority on law and order.
“The defendant acted callously and in total disregard for human life in pursuit of his narrow, selfish objectives—he being captured. In my view, this was a crime of sufficient enormity of the way the qualified remorse shown by the defendant, his unhappy upbringing and the mitigating matters raised by the learned defense counsel. The aggravating factors of this case substantially outweigh the objective factors addressed by the court and identified during the sentencing hearing. In my view the Crown has discharged its burden of establishing beyond reasonable doubt that the death penalty is warranted. It is therefore ordered the death penalty be enforced on the defendant Mitchel Joseph.”