CHARLESTOWN, Nevis – FORMER Nevis and Leeward Islands cricketer Warrington Phillip was today (Feb. 6) sentenced to life imprisonment for the killing of his wife of four years, Shermel Phillip, on February 16, 2007.
The sentence was passed by Justice Ianthea Leigertwood Octave in the Nevis Circuit High Court, Charlestown, and defence counsel Dr. Henry Browne made clear his intention to appeal.
Prior to the sentencing, when asked by the judge if he had anything to say, Phillip said, “From my humble submission, I ask you to have mercy on me.”
Director of Public Prosecutions Paulina Hendrickson told the court at the beginning of the hearing that the prosecution was standing by its notification that the crime Phillip committed was heinous and thus he deserved the death penalty.
Hendrickson said the death penalty would act as a deterrent and show Nevisians that “we cannot condone this type of behaviour”.
But Dr. Browne submitted that the crime did not warrant the sentence. He referred to an authority - Evanson Mitcham’s guidance – and said the imposition of the death penalty was not automatic on conviction for murder.
“Mitcham’s case introduced a radical departure from the past in the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis. Mitcham’s case gave the trial court discretion in sentencing upon conviction for murder.
“The pursuit of the death penalty sentence is not to be taken lightly. It should be carefully contemplated before being sought. It is not to be left to the whim and or fancy of the Prosecution. To pursue the death penalty at this stage introduces caprice and unpredictability which subjects the prisoner to mental torture. Such treatment offends the prisoner’s constitutional rights,” Dr. Browne said.
Dr. Browne said Phillip had an unblemished criminal record. “He was a well respected 38-year-old man proficient in sports. He excelled in football and was a star performer as a Leeward Islands cricketer. The psychiatrist report revealed that he is of sound and undiminished intellectual capacity. The Social Welfare report reflected nothing unsavory in his character, save for what was alleged in court against him.”
He said it was not crystal clear why the murder was committed and told the judge to scrutinise the mitigating factors in her deliberation. He said there was no evidence that Phillip had abused his wife physically although there was evidence of verbal abuse.
“There is nothing to suggest after a meaningful custodian sentence he cannot reform,” the defence counsel added.
Justice Octave told the court that she had considered submissions including a psychiatrist’s report that Phillip had been evaluated and found to be normal. On Dr. Browne’s submission, she said that the failure for the prosecution to give a notice on death penalty at the expected time was not an issue that would influence her on whether to impose it or not. She said the notification issue could be raised at another forum.
Justice Octave said the death penalty is no longer automatic after a conviction and hence the reason for the sentence hearing. She said the prosecution had to prove all the other factors specified in Evanson Mitcham’s guidance beyond reasonable doubt.
The judge said the nature of the offence indicated it was a heinous crime, in that the wounds Shermel suffered were severe, severing the main veins and arteries carrying blood to the brain and to the heart. She added that death had been swift and the wound was intended to cause death. “No doubt that lends to the gravity of the offence,” she said.
On the issue of Phillip’s character, the judge said he had an unblemished record with no previous conviction, but there was sufficient evidence that Shermel was a victim of domestic violence. She said there was a record of verbal abuse “but there are no issues at all negative against him as far as his character record”.
Justice Octave listed the aggravating factors such as the murder being committed at night, at Shermel’s residence, and that they were estranged spouses. She said that the murder did not involve strangers. The judge also said that even when the crime is heinous, all other factors must be considered.
Justice Octave said the DPP submitted that Phillip had not shown remorse. She also told the court that Phillip had said he did not know anything about his wife’s murder.
The judge said Phillip had cooperated with the police and she did not find the case as one that could be considered an extreme case of murder. She however pointed out that Phillip had deprived his wife of life and he too would be denied the life he knew.
“I hope the years you spend in prison offer you an opportunity to think of your consequences,” Justice Octave told Phillip and added that his belongings, such as his vehicle, be released.