Long jail sentences for tragic carnival shooting case

Shelton Hunte and Trevorn Francis, two men who engaged in “a disgraceful shootout” in public during Carnival 2013, have been jailed for 33 years and 24 years respectively for the injury they caused to an innocent bystander, Judith Wynter, who was left paralysed below her breasts.

The maximum sentence for wounding with intent to murder is 35 years.

When punishing the duo yesterday, High Court Justice Iain Morley noted, “It was a disgraceful shootout of six rounds between rivals among family crowds, with an armed pursuit of Francis and a further discharge in a public place of 13 rounds.”

The judge also imposed a 27-year prison sentence on Hunte for shooting at his co-convict Francis with intent to murder him and 10 years for possession of the firearm with intent to injure “all to run concurrently, so that the overall sentence is 33 years. Time spent on remand will count, as calculated by the prison.”

The judge said Hunte would be eligible for remission after serving two-thirds of his sentence.

In addition to the 24 years for shooting Wynter, Francis on the other hand was further sentenced to 24 years in jail for shooting at Hunte with intent to murder him, plus 10 years for possession of a firearm with intent to injure, “all to run concurrently, so that the overall sentence is 24 years. Time spent on remand will count, as calculated by the prison.”

Both men have been on remand since they were arrested for these crimes in 2013, so they have already spent five of their total years of punishment.

Francis too, the judge said, may be eligible for remission after serving two-thirds of his time.

The judge recalled that during the trial, the court came to understand that during Carnival the East Bus Station becomes “a festival of shacks and bars serving food and drink, called ‘Shantytown’, heavily populated with families enjoying Antigua’s famous annual August street parties. It is a time for celebration, as children mix with adults of all ages.”

Moving through the crowds, Francis, then aged 22, insulted Hunte, then aged 26, calling him two derogatory names.

Hunte’s reaction was to pull a 9mm Glock pistol and fire four shots at Francis, who in retaliation whipped out a 0.38 pistol and shot at Hunte twice.

Hunte’s bullets hit Francis in the leg and Wynter in the spine. At the time of the incident, Wynter was simply sitting with friends at a nearby bar which was directly behind where Francis was standing and being shot at.

Francis hid behind a Nissan Toyota pickup and two bullets from Hunte’s gun went through the cab in which a lady cowering in the well by the pedals, miraculously emerged unscathed.

After Francis returned fire, Hunte was hit superficially through a fleshy part of his upper right chest and his friend Takuma Forde was also struck on the right hand.

Hunte made his way to hospital, while Francis and his friend “Mika” ran off and were pursued by another person, who emptied an entire 13 round magazine from a different Glock pistol at them on a dirt alley near Country Pond.

This time, Francis was struck in the other leg and superficially in his neck. He too discharged another round which went through the back seat of a passing Suburu Legacy.

The judge noted it was “mercifully then unoccupied but often was [occupied by a little girl]”.

At least three bullets pierced an unoccupied parked Toyota Noah van. Francis then made his way to hospital and both he and Hunte were arrested while undergoing medical care. On August 23, 2013, the two Glocks used in the gun battle were recovered in the possession of Cadaphey Evanson and Maximillian Roberts, friends of Hunte, in whose company Hunte had been that night, and who later received prison terms for possession of firearms. The 0.38 pistol which Francis had was never recovered.

There was a third defendant, Adrian Shand, who allegedly was the person who shot at Francis at Country Pond, but was acquitted on the evidence before the jury.

To this day, Hunte maintains his innocence, despite being identified by three witnesses specifically as the man shooting at Francis. In a pre-sentencing report, he was described as having good family relations and a religious upbringing.

He is the father of a five-year-old daughter who is, to an extent now supported by his brother.

A member of his community described Hunte as “a ‘gunman’, firing off rounds in his own yard” and he has previous convictions to include one for wounding with intent by means of a firearm in 2009 and in 2008 and he was jailed for those.

Francis also maintains his innocence up to now, even after he was identified by one witness as the man shooting at Hunte, and who was pursued by another, who shot further at him in revenge, leaving him with two more gunshot wounds.

Francis has a daughter aged 11. Justice Morley noted that “he lacks communication skills and cannot read or write.” Previous convictions include possession of a 0.32 pistol in 2011 and possession of nine rounds of ammunition in 2007, and possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life in 2011. He was punished for each offence.

Concerning Francis, in his pre-sentence report he complained that the person who shot him at Country Pond has not been convicted, which at trial was said by the prosecution to be Shand.

The judge however said, “It should be pointed out that Francis was given the opportunity to give evidence against Shand, and also Hunte, and if he had done so the prosecution would have accepted a plea from him simply to possession of a firearm, as one who may have responded defensively to Hunte pulling a gun first.”

However, during the trial, he declined to cooperate, “and said nought in his defence.”

 According to the judge, “If he laments that the person who shot him at Country Pond is free, while he today faces a significant sentence for two offences with intent to murder, he has only himself to blame.”

The following victim impact report paints a tragic, heartbreaking picture of Wynter’s plight.

This article turns now to the most troubling aspect of this bold-face incident, that is, what the court said about the impact it has had on Judith Wynter who was 62 years old at the time of the men’s indiscretion.

The judge said he visited Wynter’s home for an hour last month as he prepared for the sentencing. He did so in company of court staff and the lawyers who represented Hunte and Francis as well as Crown Counsel Adlai Smith..

He described Wynter’s situation as “pitiful” as he also recalled from the evidence that during her medical treatment after she was shot, “her heart stopped twice during medical intervention.”

Paralysed today from her breasts down, despite several operations, the judge noted “Wynter’s legs have withered, and she lies all day, suffering bedsores on her back, on a bed in a small room, with open windows to catch the breeze.”

She leaves the room about once a month. Neighbours visit and she is daily cared for in shifts by her son and daughter. “She has little money and insufficient financial support from government, though she has nursing help during several days weekly.”

The judge describes Wynter as a “remarkable woman” because she appears to be in good spirits despite what happened and she reportedly told the judge she sincerely “forgives her wrong-doers, in keeping with her strong Christian faith.”

Justice Morley said, “She impressed me deeply and I consider her wretched condition a significantly aggravating feature in this terrible crime. It would bring a tear to the eye of many to witness her radiant smiles set against her deplorable frailty.”

At court, for the sentencing hearing yesterday she appeared by Skype, as she was unable to be there owing to her bed-bound condition. She saw the defendants and spoke clearly of her hardships.