A man who held one of his fiancée’s relatives in a chokehold resulting in his death after he disturbed their sleep has been released from prison, having spent more time on remand than the sentence imposed on him.
On Friday, at High Court No. 2, in Kingstown, Justice Rickie Burnett ordered that the man, Caswell Smart, 32, of North Union, be released from prison immediately.
After exiting the three-storey D’Ville Plaza in which the court is located on the top floor, Smart appeared unsure of his next move.
He walked towards a nearby telephone company and appeared to speak to a sales representative at a booth set up on the sidewalk.
He then walked westward, in the direction of Building and Loan Association.
Smart had been in prison since 2017, in connection with the March 27, 2017 death of Julius Henry/Murray, 51, a relative of Smart’s fiancée, Philann John.
According to the facts presented by Justice Burnett, Smart shared a house in Mahaut, Campden Park, with John and other members of her family, including Henry/Murray.
On March 25, 2017 about 2 a.m., Henry/Murray, who appeared to be intoxicated, was speaking loudly on the veranda of the house, disturbing its occupants from their sleep.
The occupants asked Murray to stop and he did so briefly, but started speaking loudly again a few minutes later.
Henry/Murray complained that they had no right to bring man in the house and give him chicken to eat while he (Henry/Murray) was given only the chicken fat.
Smart and Philann approached Henry/Murray, held onto him and pulled him from the porch to the kitchen area.
Smart then stood behind Henry/Murray, placed him in a chokehold and guided him down to the floor.
John then asked the deceased if he wanted to be treated like a slave and he replied in the affirmative.
Smart later released Henry/Murray from the chokehold and boxed him multiple times about his body until Henry/Murray’s sister, Sherrydan Murray, intervened and told him not to hit him anymore.
Murray also instructed Smart and John to take Henry/Murray to his bedroom to rest.
After that incident, Henry/Murray fell ill and remained in bed and one Roxann Allen encouraged him to seek medical attention, but he initially declined.
However, on the evening of March 27, 2017, Henry/Murray was taken to the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital, where he died the following day.
A post mortem examination revealed the cause of his death to be trauma to neck with cervical spine fracture.
Smart was arrested in connection with Henry/Murray’s death.
While in custody, he requested writing material and wrote a note, saying, among other things:
“I made a mistake that night by going to Julius Murray and grab him by his hands Lord and forcefully take him to his room and placed him on his bed so that he can behave himself.
“Lord never did I thought that tonight I would have to stand or sit before officers of the land to be questioned for murder so lord only you can get me out of this.”
Smart was interviewed electronically on suspicion of murder but declined to answer the questions police put to him.
On Sept. 25, 2018, Smart pleaded not guilty to a charge that he murdered Henry/Murray.
On May 5, 2023, his counsel asked that the indictment be read to him again and Smart pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to manslaughter.
The Crown, represented by Karim Nelson, an assistant director of public prosecutions, accepted the plea.
‘he appeared to be playing tricks’
Justice Burnette outlined that a social inquiry report said that Smart commenced but did not complete studies in theology in Trinidad and last worked as a ramp agent at Argyle International Airport.
Smart told the social worker that he suffers from insomnia and spoke to Henry/Murray because his noise level was affecting his ability to sleep.
He could not remember what happened but a rage came over him and he grabbed Henry/Murray from behind to prevent him from getting a weapon and pulled him away from his fiancée.
Smart told the social worker that he held Henry/Murray for a while and when he released the grip, he realised something was wrong with Henry/Murray but people kept saying that he was playing tricks.
Monelva Stapleton who went to visit the deceased also reasoned that he appeared to be playing tricks.
Smart informed the social worker that people in the community looked up to him and he was heartbroken that Henry/Murray died at his hands.
He expressed regret for the pain he had caused the family.
The social inquiry report also reflected the views of the deputy principal at North Union Secondary School, who said Smart was a former head boy and was Christian-oriented.
The educator said Smart was a model student and was respected by his peers and earned respect from his teachers.
Meanwhile, in the report, Henry/Murray’s daughter spoke of her father travelling to Union Island and helping her with her children as well as financially.
She said his death has affected her a lot and caused division in the family, but they have settled their difference.
North Union resident shocked at killing
North Union residents expressed shock at the incident, saying that Smart was mannerly, polite, respectful, helpful, attended church and told others about God.
Prison authorities told the social worker that they had no problems with Smart, who was fully integrated in the prison doing creative writing, performing arts and music.
The judge noted the aims of criminal punishment, namely prevention, deterrence, retribution and rehabilitation.
He said that in arriving at the sentence, the court also considered the prevalence of the offence as well as the characteristic and antecedents of the offender.
The judge noted the sentencing guidelines and said he saw no reason to depart from them in the extant case.
He said that Smart did not intend to cause serious harm to Henry/Murray and that his intention was only to restrain him.
Justice Burnett established a starting point of six years in custody.
He said that aggravating of the offence was that it appeared to have been a group activity.
Mitigating was that there was no premedication as it appears to have been a spur-of-the-moment incident and that Smart had responded to Henry/Murray’s conduct.
The court found not aggravating features of the offender.
Mitigating on Smart’s behalf was that from him and also the social worker, the court concluded that there appeared to be a sense of genuine remorse.
There were also some mental health challenges that might have affected Smart’s response at the time, the judge said.
He also noted that Smart was of good character.
The judge concluded that the mitigating features of the case outweighed the aggravating and reduced the sentence by one year.
He granted Smart the full one-third discount for the early guilty plea.
This was despite the Crown’s contention that the plea did not come at the earliest opportunity, Smart having been informed since January 2020 that the Crown was open to accepting a guilty plea to manslaughter.
However, the defence, represented by Counsel Patina Knights, contended that Smart had pleaded guilty at the first practicable opportunity.
The judge noted that there was on record a July 27, 2020 letter from Smart asking for legal aid, saying he was abandoned by one of his lawyers and had asked the other to recuse himself from the matter.
The court concluded that Smart was reaching out to have proper representation to aid in his defence.
The judge concluded that if he had been properly represented earlier, his plea might have been the one entered before the court.
The judge noted that Smart had spent six years, three months and 21 days on remand, which is in excess of his sentence minus the one=third discount and ordered his immediate release from prison.