BELIZE CITY—The man who killed Maurice Neal in December 2002, when he issued five shots around a dice game table inside the Bismark Club, was sentenced to 17 years in prison for manslaughter, after Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin heard mitigation pleas from his attorney and one character witness today.
Jamie Dawson, after two inconclusive Supreme Court trials, decided to take his attorney, Anthony Sylvestre’s advice when he pleaded not guilty to murder, but guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter July 20, 2014, when his third trial came up before the Chief Justice.
When Dawson was first tried for Neal’s murder in March 2004, the jury in the Supreme Court of Justice Adolph Lucas was unable to reach a verdict on the murder indictment. They did, however, agree that Dawson was guilty of the lesser manslaughter charge, read to him on July 20.
That verdict was appealed and the Court of Appeal ruled that it was arrived at improperly, so the court ordered a new murder trial for Dawson.
At the second trial in February 2006, the jury was unable to reach a verdict for manslaughter, and after they had deliberated for 5 hours and 8 minutes, Justice John “Troadio” Gonzalez declared: “This is a hung jury….”
Dawson was then returned to prison to await another murder trial.
Since he was first remanded to prison on the murder charge, Dawson has spent 11 years, 8 months and 4 days behind bars. Anxious to learn his fate, Dawson, who had the option to ask the court for an adjournment until his mother is well enough to testify in the mitigation and sentencing hearing, decided to proceed with his case today.
John Pollard, J.P., a tour guide and resident of Fabers Road, Dawson’s only character witness, testified that he has known Dawson all his life. Pollard told the court that “when this unfortunate incident happened, Dawson was my employee” in the construction field.
In addition to being Dawson’s employer, Pollard testified that he also knows him as a family friend, who, “if given a chance to return to society, will be a changed person, because he has learned from the mistake that happened to him.”
“If he is released, are you prepared to give him a job?” CJ Benjamin asked Pollard.
Pollard replied, “Yes, I am willing to give him a job.”
CJ Benjamin questioned Pollard about his communication with Dawson since he has been incarcerated. Pollard told the court that he spoke to Dawson as recently as two weeks ago.
From the prisoner’s dock, Dawson addressed the court briefly, saying that he was sorry for what he did, and asked Neal’s family for forgiveness.
“I have been in jail since I was 23; now I am 35. I look forward to my changed life,” Dawson told the court.
He added, “I just want to say to the young boys out there, please, learn from my mistake.”
Sylvestre told the court: “At the murder trial in 2006, a jury of the defendant’s/convict’s peers was unable to arrive at a verdict. Therefore, My Lord, with respect, while a firearm was used, the homicidal intent has not been established in two previous trials”.
“In this regard, we therefore urge Your Lordship in considering the appropriate sentence to be passed,” said Sylvestre.
Crown Counsel Sheiniza Smith, who led the Crown’s evidence in the case, revealed that Dawson had several previous convictions, and while he has been on remand for the murder, he was convicted of grievous harm and a three-year prison sentence was imposed. Dawson apparently had committed the grievous harm offense in 2002, some months before he was remanded to prison on the murder charge.
In imposing the 17-year sentence, C. J. Benjamin noted that “Firearm offenses have become a scourge in Belize, and the court cannot ignore the fact of the past violent ways of [the] accused.”
Benjamin added: “The court must take into account the aggravated factor in which the act was carried out.”
“All the time you spent in prison will be taken into account,” Benjamin told Dawson.
The court gave Dawson full credit for the time that he has spent on remand, but this credit does not include the 3-year sentence for the grievous harm conviction, Benjamin said in his judgment.
The judge also said that he was leaving it up to the prison authorities to calculate the time remaining for Dawson to be behind bars.
Taking into consideration the almost nine years Dawson spent on remand, it is estimated that Dawson has approximately 8 more years to go, out of the 17 years which he was sentenced to serve by CJ Benjamin.