Soesdyke man serving life for hacking his 3 children to death loses appeal

Confessed killer:
John Blanchard

A 40-year-old man who was, in 2016, handed three life sentences for hacking his three children to death as they lay asleep, has lost in his bid to have the Guyana Court of Appeal reduce the prison terms. His appeal against the jail terms was dismissed on Monday.
John Blanchard of Dr Charles Sand Road, Soesdyke, East Bank Demerara, was initially charged with the October 11, 2011 murders of his three young children: Joy, aged six; Belika, aged 10; and Daniel, aged four. Their cause of death was given as multiple stab wounds.
He was, however, allowed by State Prosecutors to plead guilty to three counts of manslaughter. Justice Barlow imposed a life sentence on each count, instructing that they are to be served concurrently. The Judge further ordered that the killer does not become eligible for parole until after serving a minimum of 30 years.
It was reported that the convict had accused his wife, Onica Blanchard, of being unfaithful since she had been working in the interior at a mining camp, and had been away from home for a very long time.
On the day in question, the couple had a telephone conversation during which Onica told her husband that she wanted the house and land. The woman also told her husband that he should keep the children.

John Blanchard’s three children

John told his wife that it would be hard for him to take care of their children all by himself, and as a result, they were involved in a heated argument. He said that he was upset after his wife told him that she was not returning home until Christmas.
John then turned his anger on his three children, mercilessly stabbing them while they lay in bed sleeping. In a caution statement, John told the Police that after killing his children he wanted to commit suicide, but “didn’t get to do it.”
Moreover, the killer told Justice Barlow that he loved his children and didn’t know what could have caused him to turn his wrath on them. He had told the Judge that things were bothering him and that all he could remember was arguing with his wife who he wanted to come back home.
Dissatisfied with the sentences imposed by the trial Judge, Blanchard, through his lawyer Mark Conway, moved to the Court of Appeal seeking a reduction. He contended that the sentences were manifestly excessive and not in keeping with established sentencing guidelines.
The confessed killer further argued that Justice Barlow erred in law in not allowing or stating that the minimum period of incarceration must include the time spent on remand. He also argued that the trial lawyer failed to present an application that could mitigate the sentences.
Chancellor of the Judiciary Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards and Justices of Appeal Rishi Persaud and Dawn Gregory rejected defence counsel’s argument that the trial Judge erred in law in not allowing for a reduction. Conway had relied on a ruling by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in the case of Romeo Da Costa Hall vs The Queen.
The CCJ, in that case, held that full credit should be granted for the time an accused person spent in pre-trial custody. But the Court of Appeal underscored that the principles, in this case, do not “automatically” apply to all cases.
“This is not cast in stone. There are cases where the court can feel free to depart from such a rule,” Justice Cummings-Edwards noted. She explained that the prosecution was of the view that this was not a case where the minimum sentence should include the time spent on remand.
“Life imprisonment by itself is an indeterminate [number] of years. And from that how can the trial Judge deduct the minimum time spent? Unless if it is for that period to be taken from the other part of the sentence where the trial said he is not eligible for parole until after serving 30 years.”
Having considered that the principles outlined in the above-named case are not cast in stone and that the trial Judge has the discretion whether or not to impose a particular sentence, the Court of Appeal found that Justice Barlow did not err given the circumstances of the case.
John Blanchard’s contention that the trial lawyer was incompetent since he/she failed to make an application to mitigate sentencing was also rejected by the appellate court. Citing a decision by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, the Appeal Court noted: “A high standard is required to show the incompetence of counsel.”
Given the fact that the trial Judge would have considered all of the circumstances of the case, and would not have failed to consider mitigating factors, Justice Cummings-Edwards held, “We are of the view that the trial Judge had a discretion in the sentence and the appellant [John Blanchard] was fortunate that the State accepted the pleas [for manslaughter] given that he was charged with murder contrary to Common Law.”
“This is a case of three children in bed sleeping who were knifed to death because of no fault of their own. Their father was angry with his wife for not coming home and it seems like the brunt of his frustration was wrongly directed [to the children] and tragically too,” Justice Cummings-Edwards noted.
In the end, the Appeal Court in dismissing John Blanchard’s appeal asserted that the imposition of the three life sentences was fair.