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A falling star?

Wednesday, December 12 2012

Soca Super Star Machel Montano will return to the Magistrate’s Court in January to learn what will be his sentence following a guilty verdict on assault charges. His trial, along with his friends and colleagues, has been ongoing for some five years now.

Machel and fellow performers Kernel Roberts, Rodney “Benjai” LeBlanc and Joel “Zan” Feveck had been charged with criminal charges of assault and using obscene language outside of the Zen Nightclub in April 2007. A packed courtroom heard the verdicts read out by Magistrate Maureen Baboolal-Gafoor and there were audible gasps of disbelief from the four and their families and friends.

They had been charged with assaulting Russel Pollonais and Brandis Brown, while Montano was additionally charged with assaulting Janelle Lee Chee and Gerard Bowrin, and of using obscene language. The incident outside the nightclub had followed an incident inside the club where the accused apparently had an argument with the victims and a drink had been splashed or spilled upon Montano.

Upon announcement of the guilty verdict, Montano’s attorney, Dana Seetahal, SC, and Roberts’ attorney Keith Scotland rose to make pleas in mitigation before sentences were announced. Magistrate Baboolal-Gafoor indicated that the court would consider such pleas and adjourned the matter to January 17 to receive, among other things, a Probation Officer’s report on those found guilty.

Several issues come to the fore in this matter, not the least being the behaviour and attitudes of persons in the public glare and the public’s perceptions of how they should behave, and how they should be treated if and when they do wrong. In more sophisticated societies, the courts tend to hold societies’ icons to higher standards than ordinary individuals when the icons are found guilty of offences. We have read of entertainers and sports stars serving prison sentences for incidents similar to the convictions of Montano and Roberts. And let us not forget that Pollonais, one of the victims of the assault, was beaten unconscious. However, here in TT we tend to be far more forgiving of our icons when they err. This feeling may be symptomatic of our general knowledge of local prison conditions compared with prisons in more sophisticated societies.

It has been reported that at least one of the victims has declared that Machel should be sent to prison. So with that comment already in the public domain, we have no qualms on stating our views on what the magistrate might consider as she weighs the facts of the case, and the characters of those found guilty.

We believe that prison sentences should be imposed on habitual or repeat offenders, not upon persons who have had clean records up to the time of the incident of which they were found guilty. However, this must be weighed against the severity of the crime committed, and assault occasioning loss of consciousness is a severe attack by any standard. In our reasoning, there is a wide range of censure and punishment that can be applied to Machel and Roberts. These range from prison sentences, through fines and compensation to the victims, and on to community service and probation.

Given the general knowledge of our prison conditions, we hope that the magistrate does not choose this punishment. Machel already stands to lose a lot in this matter, as do others, including the Government, which had hitched their recent “feel good” campaigns to his rising star status. We would endorse a non custodial sentence, but certainly would like to see a contrite and sincere apology from Machel and Roberts to their victims and a sizeable monetary retribution.

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