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criminal justice

High Court judge Rickie Burnett has summoned a staff member of the Mental Health Rehabilitation Centre (MHRC) to explain the status of a defendant who the centre said “is currently lost to our outpatient clinic”.

The MHRC made the comment in a report to the court ahead of the sentencing of Cordial Jack, 44, for arson.

However, when Jack appeared before the court, he said that on the occasions that he visited the centre, he did so of his own volition and last visited in early 2023 to ask the psychiatrist to reduce the dosage of his medication.

He testified that since the psychiatrist did so, he has been buying his medication at a pharmacy and had been taking them consistently.

Jack said that based on the experience he had with the incident and the eight months he spent on remand in prison, “I am a lot more grateful and cautious with my life to avoid such incidents taking place again.

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“… mentally, and health-wise, it drove home the importance of taking care of myself…”

Jack has a full-time job and his daughter, Anastacia Codougan, as well as his employer, Allister Browne, also testified at the hearing, saying that they had not seen since his treatment began any of the symptoms that Jack displayed when he committed the offence in March 2022.

The defendant, who is represented by Shirlan “Zita” Barnwell, returns to court on Wednesday, when Justice Burnett is expected to hear from Michael Stowe, of the MHRC.

Jack is to be sentenced in connection with a charge that on March 15, 2022, he destroyed one 18 ft by 25 ft two-storey wall and wooden dwelling house in Murray’s Village by setting it on fire.

At last week’s sentencing hearing, the judge said the mental health report had said that Jack “is currently lost to our outpatient clinic”.

Justice Burnett said this was of concern to him, adding that the report also said that Jack had not been following up from time to time with the health care facility.

He further said that in the indictment, there was no value of the property and this, too, was of concern to the court.

The judge said that it would be important to get an idea of a value, “in the event that the court wishes to go in a particular direction”.

Maria Jackson-Richards, who appeared for the crown, said that the prosecution would find out from the complainant by Tuesday the value of the property destroyed.

Zita Barnwell
Shirlan “Zita” Barnwell, seen here in a March 17, 2023 photo.

Meanwhile, Barnwell told the court that there were two reports from the MHRC centre but the doctor did not indicate how often Jack had to visit.

She likened it to the court ordering someone to report to the police station as part of a bail condition but not saying on what days.

The lawyer said Jack, his daughter and his employer were in court and the court could interact with them to get “a more comprehensive view from someone else”.

However, the judge told her to ask the questions of the people.

In her evidence, Codougan, of Lodge Village, said she has a good relationship with her father and would visit him from time to time.

She said they would “sit and talk about anything” and he would tell her what was going on with him and she would try her best to assist him.

Codougan said that as regards her father’s health, she only knows about “the incident”, an apparent reference to the fire.

She said she only knows him to be on the medication prescribed by the MHRC, which he gets from a pharmacy in Kingstown, and he tells her that he takes them every day.

The daughter said her father told her that he last visited the clinic at MHRC last year February.

She said she plays a supportive role in his life and would say that he is “okay now”.

“There is no sign of any abnormal behaviour.”

Codougan said she was not sure when Jack’s next appointment at the MHRC is and that she was only learning that morning that he is an out-patient at the MHRC.

But Barnwell said that she would address in her submission the issue of Jack being an outpatient, noting that the document did not say when he was to attend the clinic.

“He may not even know he is an outpatient,” the judge said.

Meanwhile, Browne, a contractor, of Richmond Hill, said that he has known the defendant from childhood.

He said they have a very good relationship and they are very good friends.

Browne said Jack is his main carpenter and works as the foreman at times.

On the job, Jack is an “excellent” employee, Browne said, adding that if he gives Jack a plan, he can run the job without his (Browne’s) input.

Browne said Jack’s behaviour has been exceptional in comparison to what he was a year ago and his relationship with the other workers is excellent.

“He is a quiet individual,” Browne told the court.

He said that he did not think that there was any concern now about Jack’s mental health.

Browne said he asks Jack about whether he takes his medication.

He said Jack had told him that the side effects of the medication were really affecting him in the early stages and the employee spoke to the psychiatrist who reduced the dosage.

“I have not seen any variance in his behaviour …” he said, adding that Jack is working for him on four different jobs.

Meanwhile, Jack told the court that he was not told any specific date that he should visit the MHRC.

He said that after being discharged from prison, he visited the MHRC on his own about three times in the first half of 2023. The last visit was on June 16, 2023.

Jack told the court the name of the medication that he was prescribed and that he last filled the prescription at a pharmacy in Kingstown.

The defendant said he was feeling “much better than I was at the time of the incident. Calm, relaxed, quite productive.”

He said he works every day and looks forward to going to work every day so he can maintain himself.

“And I love what I do.”

Jack said he has a son and another daughter, and his last two children are 12 and 8 years old.

Responding to questions from the prosecutor, Jack told the court he stopped visiting MHRC because he was not told that he needed to do so.

The judge said there appeared to be a communication problem because the MHRC was saying that they could not get on to Jack and he is saying he was not aware that he had to visit.

Barnwell told the court that there were issues regarding the communication between the prisons and other institutions and persons at MHRC.

“There is no robust communication among parties when it comes to persons in conflict with the law.”

She said the MHRC might say that Jack is lost to the system as an outpatient but what is lacking is information regarding how often he was supposed to visit the MHRC, if at all.

The lawyer said that Jack was saying to the court that he was feeling better as a result of his taking the medication and, therefore, there was no reason for him to visit the MHRC.

She pointed out that he said he visited the doctor to have the dosage adjusted to mitigate the side effects.

“And that seems to be working. Obviously, though he is not going to the Mental Health Centre himself, he seems to be seeking assistance where it is required.”

The judge said that the MHRC would have to fix the report but Barnwell suggested that rather than having to wait for a lengthy report, the doctor could be summoned to answer the questions as the court has been waiting a long time.

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