Dave Benjamin gets life sentence for Jessica Colker murder and Akim Frank gets 21 years and 8 months for Manslaughter for death of SGU Lecturer
“It’s obviously excessive, way beyond.”
That was the response coming from Dave Benjamin’s Attorney, Andre Thomas, to the life sentence imposed on him last week Thursday, by High Court Judge, Justice Paula Gilford for the January 24, 2016 murder of United States national, Jessica Colker, 39, who was at the time of her death vacationing on island with her husband of 2 years, 62-year-old Brian Melito.
Thomas, who failed in his request for the sentencing judge to begin with the 30-year benchmark, which is upheld for Non-Capital Murder within the OECS, held the view that Benjamin, who is now 29 years old, could have been rehabilitated and should have been discounted for his guilty plea and his expression of remorse.
However, the female judge, who presides over the No. 2 High Court in St. George’s, found no mitigating factors and imposed the Coals Gap, St. David resident, with the full extent of the law.
According to Thomas, his client who was initially charged with Capital Murder but pleaded guilty to a lesser offence of Non-Capital-Murder after striking a deal with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), should have been discounted for his guilty plea, which was entered upon arraignment.
“The benchmark (that) is normally used in the OECS, 30 years and thereafter you take into consideration (the) mitigating (and) aggravating factors, the fact that he pled guilty and then give a reasonable sentence,” said the attorney.
“The fact that he pled guilty upon arraignment means that he should get a discount in sentence and that’s the practice throughout the region…and no discount was given,” he added.
Thomas, the brother of former Prime Minister Tillman Thomas, dropped hints that the matter will be taken to the Court of Appeal.
Colker who was a Children’s Anesthesiologist in Atlanta, Georgia, lost her life on January 24, 2016, one day after she and her husband, Brian Melito arrived on island for vacation at the La Sagesse Nature Centre.
The two reportedly went on a leisure walk on the remote Le-Cheasere beach, just past the La Sagesse beach, when they were taken hostage by Benjamin, who was armed with a mask and a 10-12 inches long kitchen knife.
Melito was told to run by the attacker, who took away his wife, and then raped and killed her.
The woman was allegedly hacked to death by Benjamin, who committed the gruesome crime two months after being released from prison after serving time for the rape of a 14-year-old girl.
The towering 6ft, 1in tall Benjamin was reportedly sentenced to 7 years for the crime but was released early after serving 5 years.
His sentencing for the gruesome Colker murder was initially scheduled for last week Wednesday but was brought to a halt, when his defense attorney challenged the prosecution’s case in an effort to convince the court, that there was nothing in its report to suggest that Benjamin raped the deceased woman.
However, Senior Crown Counsel in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Howard Pinnock pointed out that the rape was the basis of the charge brought against Benjamin, who had refused to accept money from Melito, after attacking the married couple on the beach.
The Prosecution told the court that the body of Colker was found laying face down with her buttocks exposed.
The court was forced into having what is referred to as a ‘Newton’ hearing the following day, in which the doctor who first arrived on the crime scene and the pathologist, who carried out the autopsy were called in for verification.
After hearing evidence from both doctors and the husband of the deceased woman, Justice Gilford maintained the Prosecution’s case that rape was the motive for Benjamin’s attack on the couple.
Benjamin stood in the dock and begged the court for leniency after apologising to the husband and uncle of the deceased for the loss caused to them and for the shame brought to the nation.
When asked if he accepted Benjamin’s apology, the grieving husband, who had to leave the court before the sentence was handed down in order to catch his flight back home, told THE NEW TODAY: “I am sorry I need to catch my flight.”
However, Colker’s uncle who spoke with this newspaper after the life sentence was handed down on Benjamin described his niece as “the kindest, most generous person you can possibly imagine”.
He said: “Her death was just a tragedy for our family and we are still suffering with the thought of how tragically and brutally she was killed but we are very thankful to the people of Grenada and to the witnesses the judicial system and to the prosecutor.
“We are grateful for the action of the court and for the Prosecutor Mr. Howard Pinnock and his team. We are thankful for the result and for the many witnesses who came forward in this case,” he added.
When asked if Benjamin’s apology was accepted, the uncle said: “I don’t think it’s for me to accept the apology I think that’s for God.”
In handing down the sentence, Justice Gilford noted that Benjamin, a former student of the Grenada Boys Secondary School, (GBSS) has already spent most of his adult life behind bars at the Richmond Hill Prison and committed this offence in January 2016, just about 2 months after his release from prison in November 2015.
The female high court judge told the murder convict that his actions can have undesirable consequences for the country, which relies heavily on the tourism industry to generate much needed revenue.
Pointing to Benjamin’s criminal record and his social inquiry report, which sums him up as being a “danger to society,” and a “bully, who doesn’t give up until he gets his way,” Justice Gilford concluded that his “perverted and sadistic disposition” shows, that he takes pleasure in perpetuating these crimes and that his last conviction was of a similar nature.
Benjamin was also ordered to undergo therapy and counselling as part of his life sentence.
In the other high-profile case, 28-year old Akim Frank of Jean Anglais, St. George was sentenced to 21 years and 8 months for Manslaughter for the December 2015 death of Canadian national, Dr. Linnea Veinotte, who was attached to St. George’s University (SGU).
The sentence was handed down last week Thursday by Justice Gilford, who did not consider his age as a mitigating factor, due to the seriousness of the offence and his long list of 13 prior convictions.
Frank was initially charged with Non-Capital Murder but struck a deal with State Prosecutors for a lesser charge of Manslaughter, in a deal put forward by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) based on the circumstances of the case.
Frank has been on remand at the prison since turning himself in to police six days after the deceased woman’s husband, Matthew Veinotte reported her missing on December 6, 2015, after she never returned home from walking her dog in the vicinity of Lance Aux Epines in the south of the island.
The convicted man, who escaped a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, admitted to hitting the now deceased woman with a borrowed SUV, in an area known as Coral Cresent.
He admitted to ditching her body in the bushes somewhere in the vicinity of the Golf Course in Grand Anse, where it was discovered six days later, partly decomposed.
Frank, who was 26 years old at the time of the incident, later told police investigators that he went into Lance Aux Epines to drop-off someone and was driving the vehicle with speed since he was late in bringing it back to the owner.
Frank revealed that after running into the woman and the dog, he stopped and decided to pick up Linnea, who fell to the ground in an attempt to carry her to the St. George’s General hospital for medical treatment.
He put the injured lady into the back of the vehicle and took the route leading into Grand Anse Valley to get into the city.
He told police investigators that while driving the vehicle, he noticed that it started to wobble and when he stopped, he realised that he had a flat tyre.
He took the vehicle into an area along the road to change the tyre and saw a man and an animal and decided to drive off.
He also said that he stopped somewhere else along the route to change the tyre and when he looked back at the woman, he felt that she was dead and became scared and decided to dump the body in some bushes at Golf Course.
Veinotte’s body had already decomposed to the point that pathologists could not say how long she arrived on the spot after being hit and whether she died instantly.
Her husband informed the court that he currently takes counselling once a week to help him cope with their two young boys who were ages 5 and 6 at the time of their mother’s death.
Frank, who was employed as a Gardener at the time of the incident, humbly apologised to the grieving husband for the tragedy brought to his life.
He said: “I am very sorry for what happened… I know saying sorry for what I have done is not enough but it’s all I can say”.
The accused sat in the dock head down, with both hands clasped between his legs throughout most of his sentencing.
He took a long deep breath as he was instructed to stand before the court just after 4:00 p.m. last week Thursday afternoon to hear his fate.
Among the aggravating factors noted by the court were his 13 previous convictions, which he acquired as a member of the once-feared “Bloods Gang” during the 2005-10 period, as well as the manner in which the body of the deceased was disposed and the fact that the victim was missing for days.
Frank’s expression of remorse was the only mitigating factor considered by Justice Gilford, who was compelled to increase the sentencing benchmark by five years because the aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating factors.
The judge noted that had Frank picked up Veinotte and drove her to the hospital instead of dumping her body off like a “common animal”, things would have been different for him today.
In calculating the time to be spent in prison, Justice Gilford decided to impose a sentence of 18 years and 9 months and added an extra 5 years, which put the overall sentence to 23 years.
Frank was then discounted for the time spent on remand and for his expression of remorse, which brought the sentence down to a total of 21 years and 8 months.
In addition, the sentencing judge ordered that Frank be banned from driving for a period of five years after his release from prison.
When asked how he felt about the sentence handed down to his wife’s killer, “no comment” was the bitter response given by Matt, who rushed out of the courtroom as soon as the sentence was handed down.
Speaking with reporters after the sentencing hearing, Attorney-at-law George Prime, who provided legal counsel for Frank, expressed the view that even though he was not visited by the full extent of the law, the sentence was still “excessive” because of the age of the convicted man.
“Manslaughter,” he said, “has different degrees of sentencing because it’s (an) unintentional (crime)…I think 21 years for a 28-year old man is excessive,” said the attorney who also argued that “the principles of sentencing says when someone has committed a crime you need to consider the age”.
Prime went on: “The older person is likely to receive a harsher sentence, the younger the person, it is likely that they will get a lesser sentence. I think he is a young man and to be given 21 years at that age is excessive.”
The seasoned attorney said that an appeal might be in the pipeline after a thorough review of the nature of the sentencing.
Frank’s brother and sister also attended court and were seen trying to console their crying mother as their brother was being taken away in handcuffs back to prison.