The 60-year-old Lowmans Hill woman who was filmed kicking, slapping and beating with a closed fist, a 5-year-old child on Feb. 20, created a scene at the Kingstown Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday, when she was jailed for two months for her crime.
“Come Zhinga,” Thotelyn Wilson said as she took off her watch and passed it to her daughter, who was in the courtroom.
“Sit down, Miss Wilson. Don’t talk to your daughter, yet,” responded prosecutor Police Constable Corlene Samuel.
The prosecutor had moments earlier seemed to waver between asking for a custodial sentence for the woman, although she seemed to have wanted to request one.
“Your honour, I understand that the defendant has no previous convictions. However, if you look at the video, you would see the type of — she hit the child in her head,” Samuel said of the video that was played twice in court.
“Your honour, I am at a loss as to what sentence should be—”
“You can’t be at a loss when you are prosecutor,” the magistrate retorted.
Samuel chuckled and said she was thinking of a custodial sentence.
“However, because she never had [a conviction], probably a fine could suffice.”
Burnett told the woman that the law gave him the power to fine her up to EC$1,500 or send her to jail for three months.
“All I can say, I am sorry. I am not a bad person. I have taken care of so many children. Some of the children I take care of, they done 40-something years old and this is the first time it ever happened,” the former pre-school teacher said.
She told the court that she has taken care of children who are now members of the U.S. Army and Royal Navy.
“It is the first time it has ever happened,” Wilson said.
The magistrate responded: “I want to commend you for what you did with regard to those children. But I am judging what was done by you with regards to this 5-year-old.
“I have listened to you and the prosecutor. It is never easy to sentence in these matters but I have to do what I have to do and I am minded to send you to prison for two months. That is the sentence of the court.”
As the drama continued after the sentence was passed on Wilson, the self-confessed child abuser further said to her daughter, “The Lord is my shepherd. Why are you crying?”
“When you go home, take care of the animals,” Wilson further said, ignoring court orderlies’ calls for “Order in court!”
At this point, Senior Magistrate Rickie Burnett said that the court would rise for a few minutes — often a signal for court officials to remove disruptive convicted persons from the courtroom.
Outside the court, Wilson posed so that reporters could photographer her.
She told iWitness News to get our facts straight and gave us an erroneous lesson about when the media can photograph and publish photos of an accused person.
Asked if she had anything to say about the sentence passed on her, Wilson initially told iWitness News, “No.”
Wilson, who was flanked by two police officers escorting her to prison, however, immediately added, “You do not take pictures unless you are being convicted. You did it the last time,” she said, “Everything that has to be said is said already. I have nothing more to say. I have nothing to say. The critics said all they have to say and you said what you have to say already. I have nothing to say.”
Wilson’s daughter obtained police permission to hug her mother.
“God is good. Don’t cry,” the mother told her daughter as they embraced.
Wilson then told another woman, “Take the key. Feed the animals and wet my 15 stand of lettuce for me, all my flowers; don’t mek anything dry up.”
She told another woman, “Go up home, pull me lettuce, go market, sell them divide the money for me and you and may God be with alyo.”
As she was leaving the court precincts, the woman fired one final salvo at iWitness News, telling Executive Editor Kenton Chance, “Mr. Chance, yo’ too dunce!”
Wilson received two-third of the maximum term of imprisonment for her crime, for which the alternative was a maximum fine of EC$1,500, on summary conviction.
The sentencing guidelines of the court say that if a person pleads guilty, he or she is entitled to one-third reduction of the sentence the court considered.
Damning social report
On Feb. 26, Wilson, a farmer and vendor, appeared before Burnett and pleaded guilty to a charge of cruelty to a juvenile.
The charge stemmed from her beating and kicking a 5-year-old girl — of no biological relation to her — for whom she had been caring since the child was 2 years old.
Samuel had initially asked that the matter be sent to the Family Court for sentencing, but that court sent the matter back to the senior magistrate –who is also vice president of the Family Court.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Burnett told the court that social services officials had prepared a 12-page report on the case.
He asked Samuel to read the full report for the benefit of the court.
The report said that Wilson is the mother of two adult daughters, who live in the United States and Bequia.
She attends the Campden Park Apostolic Faith Church three times a week and is not known to have a history of mental health issues, and told the caseworker that she has never abused any illegal substance.
The minor came into Wilson’s care after the child’s biological father asked Wilson’s daughter to help him take care of the child.
However, because Wilson’s daughter lives and works in Bequia — sometimes for long hours — and uses chemicals in her cosmetology business, she did not think that she was well positioned to adequately take care of the child, and asked her mother to assist.
Wilson was the main provider for the child financially and otherwise and Wilson’s daughter would make intermittent contributions.
She has never seen the child’ biological mother and only learnt after the charge that the child’s father had taken the minor from her biological mother’s care.
On the date of the beating, a pupil at Wilson’s ward’s school complained to Wilson that the child had taken something from someone’s bag.
Wilson found, in the child’s school bag, items that did not belong to her, hence the beating.
The defendant informed the caseworker that the child was in the habit of taking things from school, but she never informed school officials because of shame.
Instead, she would place the stolen items in a bag and give the child to return them where she got them from and would assume that this was done when the child did not return with the items.
Wilson told the caseworker that on the date in question, she hit the minor because she was mad and was tired of telling her not to steal.
She further said that she could not recall where she had hit the minor, but admitted that she had done so repeatedly while speaking.
The woman claimed that it was not until police showed her a video of the incident that she realised that she had hit the child several times about her body.
The defendant further told police that she recalls telling the child that she was tired of her behaviour and that she had raised her foot at the minor.
Child claims history of abuse
However, the child, in her interview with police, said that her church had given her a doll, which Wilson told her never to take to school.
She took the doll to school and when Wilson went to the school to collect the child, another student told her that the child had taken something that belonged to someone else.
Wilson held the child’s bag and as soon as they got into the yard, began to search it.
She struck the child with the bag and kicked her. The child ran into the house and Wilson called her out and beat her some more about her body.
The child further told the police that when she went into the house and was bathing, the defendant beat her again and kicked her out of the house that night.
The child told police that after being beaten, her hand, back, ear, face, and lips hurt.
She further told the police that the defendant beats her often, usually in the same manner as on the day in question.
The caseworker said in the report that the child’s biological mother lives in the Grenadines and has four children, only two of whom live with her.
She has recently given birth and has expressed interest in having the child in her custody again. However, the state is concerned about her living conditions.
In the interim, the child has been placed in the custody of a teacher at her school and will remain there until the Department of Family Affairs decides otherwise.
The caseworker said in the report that it appears to her that the defendant was not caring for the child properly.
At the time of the interview, the child’s teeth were rotting and her hair was unkempt in a manner that suggested that it was left unattended for some time.
Wilson’s immediate neighbours said that the defendant was always beating the child in an abusive manner and that is the reason why the video was made.
There was conflicting information among villagers about Wilson’s interaction with the child.
They all said that the minor was never left alone at home or unsupervised nor was ever seen untidy, but was often dressed in an old-fashioned way.
Some villagers said that the minor was well cared for by the defendant and looked a lot better than when she came into the defendant’s care.
They said they had never seen the defendant ill-treating or shouting at the child.
Other community members indicated that the minor was always at home with the defendant and would always be seen sitting down quietly at one place for a long time.
In the street, she would be seen walking at a distance in front of the defendant, apparently to avoid her. They said that the defendant spoke to the minor in a rough manner and was rough even with the animals in her yard.
They further said they could see that the child was afraid and intimidated by her, but it was not until the video was released that they were aware of the extent of the defendant’s roughness toward the child.
Community members said that they do not know the child to give trouble.
The report said that the person who recorded the video was staying at the house directly across from the defendant but has since left the state.
‘very strict, confining, and restrictive’ home
The court heard that the defendant lives in a flat concrete structure with a sign at the entrance saying, “Do it yourself”, which she said is the motto by which she lives daily.
The report said this motto is reflected in the defendant’s daily life as she maintains a flower garden and a vegetable garden and was met doing masonry when the caseworker visited.
The entrance of the property has a wire mesh case and then a steel gate that encloses a small area for the defendant’s dog.
The defendant said that the dog was not permitted in the yard because it would defecate where she walks.
The yard was clean and tidy but lacks space for the virtual complainant to play without trampling the flowers.
The house is comprised of a small living room and a bedroom with a spare bed frame for the child.
There is a separate kitchen and an outside toilet.
The house, although small in structure was clean, had a pleasant smell and everything had its designated place.
The house had water but no electricity and a battery-powered flashlight produced light.
There was, therefore, no fridge or television, and the report cited the caseworker as saying she was left to wonder what the child did at home for fun as the atmosphere in and outside of the house appeared to be very strict, confining, and restrictive for a 5-year-old child.
The report said that Wilson did not express remorse for her action and was rather baffled as to why she was being charged criminally for her action taken in rebuking the child.
She reiterated that the child was not related to her and that she did a good deed by having the child in her care for so many years.
Wilson expressed frustration with the child’s unacceptable behaviour in reportedly stealing things at school.
She further told officials that the manner in which she punished the child did not leave any marks on the child’s skin.
The report noted that the medical examination of the child was conducted days after the incident and doctors had found no injuries.
It, however, said that investigators feel that the minor is often subjected to this type of punishment.
It further said that the defendant, based on her interview, accepted willingly and consciously to take possession of the minor, house and care for her, knowing from inception that the child was not related to her nor to her biological daughter.
She made the decision because, in her view, the child would have been safer residing with her or with her daughter who works long hours in a job where elements used were not suitable for a child.
The report concluded that Wilson had a duty and an obligation to provide adequate care and supervision of the child.
The report concluded that Wilson has no control over her temper when she is upset and instead of being remorseful for her action, blamed the child’s father.
However, Wilson never indicated that she sought help for the virtual complainant as a means of deterring her from stealing.
Instead she hid instances of the child’s misbehaviour from others.
The report said that Wilson needs to take responsibility for her actions and realise the seriousness and consequences of her offence.
The video of the beating was shown and the magistrate asked to see it again.
On the second viewing, he counted as Wilson kicked the child.
“That’s two, three,” the magistrate said.