Wife killer’s punishment reduced from death sentence to 25 years’ jail
Rupert Browne, who was given the death penalty for the May 29, 2011 murder of his wife had his sentence commuted to 25 years’ imprisonment by the Guyana Court of Appeal on Friday. Following a trial before the High Court in Demerara in 2014, Browne, also known as “Bird Man”, was found guilty of murdering 30-year-old Seema Singh at Helena Number One Mahaica, East Coast Demerara.
Justice Brassington Reynolds then sentenced the convicted killer to death by hanging. Singh, a mother of two, who hailed from Richmond, Essequibo Coast, Region Two (Pomeroon-Supenaam), was stabbed multiple times about her body by Browne.
It was reported that Browne became enraged after the woman left their Mahaica residence for his niece’s home. The man eventually caught up with his wife at the relative’s home and begged her to return home.
When she refused his request, he stabbed her several times about the body.
The injured woman was rushed to the Mahaicony Cottage Hospital but was transferred to the Georgetown Public Hospital, where she succumbed. During his trial, Browne had given, from the prisoner’s dock, an unsworn statement in which he gave conflicting stories.
In one instance, he claimed that he had gone to visit his niece’s home asking for Singh and later discovered her lying on her bed in a pool of blood. He had also claimed that when he visited the home, he saw his wife coming out from a bedroom with his nephew and asked her “how you could do that to me”. At this stage, Browne told the court that he lost his temper, picked up a knife, and stabbed the woman.
Dissatisfied with the ruling of the lower court, Browne subsequently appealed his conviction and sentence, asking for both to be set aside. In a Notice of Appeal, Browne, through his lawyer, Mark Conway, proferred several grounds.
On the first ground, the lawyer argued that the trial Judge and/or his client’s former counsel erred in law in not considering his mental state at the time of the commissioning of the offence. Chancellor of the Judiciary Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards said that on appeal, Conway raised the issue of his client’s mental state, an issue that was not raised or considered at the trial court.
Justice Cummings-Edwards said that Conway pointed out that during his client’s unsworn testimony, he stated that he would normally take psychiatric treatment and that two months before his wife’s death, she had accompanied him to the hospital to collect three months’ supply of medication.
The Chancellor said also that Conway was granted leave to lay over Browne’s medical records which showed that he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and has been undergoing regular psychiatric treatment since 1994. The treatment continued while he was incarcerated.
According to Justice Cummings-Edwards, these issues were raised by the defence counsel to support that Browne should not be held criminally liable because at the time he committed the crime his mental functions were diminished or impaired. Against this backdrop, Conway contended that the provisions of Section 14 (4) of the Court of Appeal Act applies in this case.
Section 14 (4) reads: “ If on any appeal it appears to the Court of Appeal that, although the appellant was guilty of the act or omission charged against him, he was of unsound mind at the time the act was done or the omission made so as not to be responsible for his actions according to law, the Court of Appeal may quash the sentence passed at the trial and order that the appellant be kept in custody as a criminal lunatic under Section 179 of the Criminal Law (Procedure) Act in the same manner as if a special verdict had been found by the jury under that Act.”
The Court of Appeal rejected Conway’s argument.
The Court found that Section 14 (4) did not apply to Browne’s case since his mental condition was substance-induced and that the substances which contributed to his condition were not available to him while he was incarcerated. Moreover, Justice Cummings-Edwards pointed to the fact that there was no medical indicating that Browne did not understand the nature of his trial.
Browne’s lawyer further contended that the trial Judge failed to adequately address the issue of provocation to the jury. Conway relied on the unsworn statement his client gave in defence in which he said that he saw Singh emerging from a bedroom with his nephew and lost his temper.
From this statement, the Chancellor noted that the court was asked to infer that Singh was unfaithful to her husband, or at least that was the view of her husband when he saw her coming out from the bedroom with his nephew. The appellate court, however, rejected this argument having found that the issue of provocation was well put to the jury for consideration by the trial Judge.
Defence counsel also argued that the imposition of the death sentence on his client was severe and sought the commutation of the sentence to a term of imprisonment.
He argued, too, that the imposition of the mandatory death penalty was unconstitutional and in doing so relied on Article 138 (1) of the Constitution of Guyana. The lawyer also cited factors that could have mitigated the sentence such as the fact that the offence was not premeditated and that Browne may have been suffering from a mental illness at the time he committed the crime.
While the court found that there was no evidence to establish the latter argument, the Chancellor said that the court considered the reasoning of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) “that the protection of the law is, therefore, one of underlying core elements of the rule of law which was inherent to the Constitution and it afforded every person, including convicted killers adequate safeguards against….arbitrary exercise of power and the mandatory nature of the death penalty…”
For her part, State Prosecutor Teshana James-Lake submitted that the offence for which Browne is charged does fall within the provisions of Section 100 (1) (a) to (e), of the Criminal Law (Offences) Act, and that in the circumstances the death penalty should not have been imposed. In this regard, the prosecutor conceded that a term of years or life imprisonment should be substituted in place of the death penalty.
“We commend counsel for the state in her submissions in relation to the appropriate sentence that should have been meted out to [Browne],” the Chancellor noted, adding that the convicted killer was charged in 2011 after the amendments to the Criminal Law (Offences) Act Chapter 8:01 which stipulates the offences which attract the death penalty.
Taking this into consideration, the Appeal Court held that the trial Judge could have imposed, in the circumstances, a term of years. Given the concession of the prosecution, the circumstances of the case, and the arguments raised by Browne’s lawyer, the Court of Appeal allowed the appeal on the issue of sentence. Browne’s conviction for murder was affirmed, but his death sentence was substituted with a term of imprisonment of 25 years from which time spent in pre-trial custody is to be deducted. (G1)