Keon Edwards following his court appearance on April 1, 2011.
Photo Credit: BVI Platinum News
The Court of Appeal has reduced Keon Edwards' sentence by five years. Edwards, who was sentenced last year April to 20 years in prison, had pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the shooting death of Munroe Thomas Jr. outside Club Diplomat in Long Bush on March 1, 2009.
The Appellate decision came following a hearing today, October 4, where through his lawyer Stephen Daniels, Edwards appealed the 20-year sentence handed down by former Resident Judge, Indra Hariprashad-Charles.
The Appellate Court ruled that the Judge's sentence of 20 years was excessive.
It was pointed out during the hearing that the Court of Appeal had approved a benchmark period of 15 years in the sentencing of accused persons in cases of manslaughter due to extenuating circumstances such as provocation.
The court reasoned that if the Judge took the mitigating factors into consideration and the starting point of 15 years, then Edwards' sentence would have started at eight years.
During the hearing, it was pointed out that to the eight years, the Judge would have added more years when considering the aggravating factors. Principal Crown Counsel, Tiffany Scatliffe was asked by the court about arriving at a sentence of 20 years after starting at eight years and she agreed that 15 years may have been appropriate.
Edwards' lawyer, Daniels told the court that the Judge's sentence was excessive because the Judge may have treated Edwards' manslaughter case as a murder case.
Daniels specifically pointed out a section of the Judge's ruling which stated, "Having regard to the numerous, mostly unreported cases referred to by the Crown and the submissions of Ms. Benjamin and Mr. Daniels, I am constrained to depart from the benchmark of 15 years set by our Court of Appeal because of the plethora of aggravating factors including (1) the use of a firearm in a public place; (2) the firearm was illegal; (3) many patrons were present at the time and were in the near vicinity; (4) an innocent bystander was shot and (5) Mr. Edwards' nauseating post-offence behaviour. Offences of this nature are becoming prevalent in this Territory. Many murders involving the use of firearms are unsolved. The perpetrators are at large and it is a mystery how these illegal firearms enter the Territory."
"One can only discern that the Judge in her mind conceded that Edwards murdered the deceased," Daniels stated, pointing out that his client pleaded guilty to manslaughter and not murder.
Daniels also pointed out to the court that the Crown in its submission to the court had omitted the Judge's statement on "many murders involving guns".
Scatliffe in her presentation stated that she did not agree with the Judge's statement and as such saw no need to submit them to the court.
Justice Hariprashad-Charles in her sentencing last year pointed out that previous cases have shown that the regional Appeal Court in its sentencing guidelines has set 15 years as the benchmark for manslaughter. The Judge also alluded to cases in other OECS jurisdictions where manslaughter carries a life imprisonment sentence. This is also the case in the BVI, but the Judge alluded to cases where the Appeal Court had reduced the sentences of lower courts - in one case from 15 to 7 years.
At the sentencing hearing, Edwards apologized for the shooting that claimed the life of Thomas Jr., who was said to be an innocent bystander when Edwards became embroiled in a confrontation with the security at the nightclub.
With the victim's mother in court during the sentencing hearing, Edwards said he was sorry for his actions on the morning that led to Thomas' death. He also told the Judge that he only fired three shots on the night.
Edwards said Thomas suffered a single gunshot wound that was fired "carelessly and recklessly".
"Mr. Thomas' life was short-lived and I am so sorry for what I have done to the Thomas family and also my family as well. I have caused pain and suffering to these families," Edwards stated. "I have made a great mistake and I am prepared to deal with the consequences. I am very sorry Mrs. Thomas," he added.
At the time, he said the wounds were still fresh and he prays that everyone will find it in their hearts to forgive him and he hopes someday they will have some closure to the matter.
"Mrs. Thomas will only have the memory of her son, but my kids will still have their father, but this too has impacted them so much since I had such influence on their life. They are so young and I want the opportunity to have a life with them again. One day I will teach them not to go down this same road I went and how to resolve issues without fear of threat or violence, and that nothing good can ever come from violence," he said.
Edwards, who was on the run after the shooting, was eventually captured on St. Thomas and brought back to the BVI to face the initial charge of murder in the Magistrate's Court. However, on February 21, 2011, Edwards pleaded not guilty to murder, but guilty to manslaughter in the High Court.
It was stated by the defence that the incident could not be justified and that Edwards was intoxicated at the time of the incident, which was confirmed by his girlfriend. It was also indicated that Edwards had been drinking Hennessy and cranberry before he arrived at the club and demanded entry.
Thomas' mother had submitted a letter to the court. In the letter, the mother pointed out that her son, who worked as security at the Government Complex was the main breadwinner in the home. She described her son as an affectionate person who was very helpful around the home. She said since his passing, there were several areas of the house that were in need of repairs, but she had to forgo the repairs because she could not afford it.
Although the weapon in the shooting has never been found, it is said that Edwards had indicated that the weapon was dumped in the sea while he was travelling to St. Thomas to escape law enforcement officials after the incident.
Monroe Thomas in happier times.
Photo Credit: File
The prosecution had contended that on March 1, 2009 around 2:15 am, Edwards went to Club Diplomat in Long Bush where he was denied entry by security guards since he was not properly attired. There was a discussion with the guards, but Edwards then pushed his way into the club.
One of the guards then pursued him and this developed into a confrontation between Edwards and the guard, during which licks were exchanged. Others at the club intervened and Edwards was removed from the club.
However, Edwards returned some 15 minutes later dressed in a shirt which would have afforded him entry into the club. At this time, Edwards went towards the security guard who he had the confrontation with earlier, in a manner to attack him (the guard). Persons then intervened and pulled him away from the security guard.
Despite this, Edwards still made efforts to attack the guard and after being restrained on a number of occasions, he came within a reasonable distance of the security guard, took a handgun from his waist and started firing shots. Monroe Thomas who was nearby was hit in his neck by one of the bullets.
Edwards then went towards his vehicle, while at the same time firing shots. He then fled the scene in a red Dodge vehicle and was not seen again until he was apprehended in the USVI.
Thomas was pronounced dead on the scene by an EMT and his death was later confirmed by a doctor at the Peebles Hospital.
The DPP's office had disclosed that a closed circuit TV captured the incident.