The Clare Valley fisherman who in 2019 killed his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend by shooting him in the head with a fish gun has been sentenced to 14 years in prison.
However, the man, Romando Bruce, 34, will only spend a further 10 years, 5 months and nine days in prison, as he had been on remand for three years, six months and 21 days before being sentenced last Thursday.
Bruce had pleaded not guilty when he was arraigned on Jan. 18, 2022, on a charge that he murdered Philson King, 36, of Murray’s Village, at Campden Park on July 19, 2019.
Bruce did not have a lawyer at his arraignment and could not afford one. The court appointed Patina Knights to represent him.
A psychiatric evaluation concluded that Bruce was fit to instruct counsel and on Jan. 18, 2023 pleaded guilty to the murder charge.
The facts of the case, as presented by High Court Judge, Justice Brian Cottle at the sentencing at High Court No.1 in Kingstown, on Thursday, are that King was the father of the then 4-year-old son of his girlfriend, surnamed Shepherd.
The relationship between King and Shepherd had ended but the two remained cordial as they raised the child together.
Bruce was in a relationship with Shepherd and King was in the habit of visiting his son at Shepherd’s home, where Bruce also lived.
King would also sleep at the house and sometimes when he was there, Bruce would leave because he did not think that the both of them should be sleeping at the house at the same time.
On July 13, 2019, King went to spend time with his son and brought groceries for the child and also gave Shepherd money to help with his maintenance.
Bruce, a spear fisherman, returned from fishing that day and, as he would usually do, left the fish gun in the kitchen unloaded.
He always left the fish gun unloaded because he was aware of the danger of having it loaded in a house in which a 4-year-old child also lived.
King and Bruce had a conversation and King offered drinks to Bruce and Shepherd and left to buy them.
King returned and he and Bruce had a rum together, while Shepherd enjoined a non-alcoholic drink.
King went on to tell Bruce about his displeasure about a recent incident in which Bruce had physically abused Shepherd.
Bruce became upset and went to the kitchen and returned with the loaded speargun, which he pointed at King.
Shepherd asked Bruce to put the fish gun away and King continued to say that it would be better for Shepherd to live alone rather than to be with a man like Bruce.
The woman encouraged the men to calm down. Bruce lowered the spear gun but kept it in his hand.
When Shepherd thought that the tension had dissipated, she took up her son, who was sleeping and took him to a bedroom.
While she was in the bedroom, she heard a whistling sound.
She emerged from the bedroom to see King lying on the ground with the spear of the fish gun perturbing from his head and King bleeding.
Bruce was still standing where Shepherd had left him when she went into the bedroom.
Shepherd left the house to seek help for King. And when she returned, Bruce was leaving the yard. He told her, “I done kill your man now.”
King was taken to the hospital and died six days later. An autopsy concluded that he died of a penetrating brain injury.
Bruce surrendered to police the day after the incident.
Justice Cottle said that Bruce is unmarried, has no children and ended his formal education at the primary school level.
He does not consume illegal substances and has no previous convictions.
The judge noted the aims of criminal punishment, namely retribution, deterrence, prevention, and rehabilitation.
He said the court saw no reason to move away from the sentencing guidelines in the extant case and noted that the prosecution had not sought the death penalty.
The judge said this was quite proper as the murder did not rank among the worst of the worst.
He pointed out that the sentencing guidelines say that where an offender takes a bladed weapon to the scene intending to use it to commit an offence and uses it to commit murder, it is normally regarded as sufficiently serious for a starting point of 30 years.
The judge said that while Bruce took the bladed weapon to the scene, there was no indication that he had done so with the intention to use it to commit an offence.
The court, therefore, established a starting sentence of 25 years in prison within a range of 15 to 35 years.
The judge began with the suggested starting point — a notional sentence of 25 years.
He noted that the prosecution had suggested three aggravating features: the crime occurred at the home of the victim or another, it was an unprovoked attack, and it took place in the presence of a child.
Justice Cottle, however, said that while the killing took place at Shepherd’s home, this is where Bruce lived, and hence not aggravating.
He said that there was a child present who would have observed the injury, after the shooting occurred and, therefore, the court did not consider this aggravating.
The court accepted the prosecution’s submission that the attack was unprovoked.
The judge noted that Bruce’s lawyer, in mitigation, had said that there was a level of provocation, however, not rising to the level of response by Bruce.
Knight said that King was in the habit of visiting Shepherd’s home and would sleep there sometimes, to Bruce’s discomfort.
The lawyer noted that King had suggested that Shepherd end the relationship with Bruce and that Bruce had said that King had threatened him previously.
The court, however, held that these incidents were not sufficiently provocative to count as mitigating, and therefore, concluded that there were no mitigating features of the office.
The judge said that the prosecution and defence agreed that there were aggravating features of the offender.
Mitigating was his previously good character and the fact that the social inquiry report concluded that he was seen as a good candidate for rehab.
The court said that Bruce had a reputation for being “a very cool individual” and was not viewed as “a bad man”, surrendered to the police, assisted with the investigation, and expressed remorse.
The court concluded that the mitigating features outweighed the aggravating and deducted four years from the starting sentence of 25 years.
The court gave Bruce the full one-third discount for his guilty plea, noting that it came as soon as he received legal advice but there were delays for the psychiatric evaluation, and while negotiations were taking place.