From acquittal to long prison sentences: Appeal Court rules manslaughter proven

From acquittal to long prison sentences:  Appeal Court rules manslaughter proven

PHILIPSBURG--While Dante Ottley (27) and Stevevanus Richardson (23) successfully invoked self-defence during their first trial, the Court of Appeal annulled this ruling on Thursday. The two friends were found guilty of manslaughter and attempted manslaughter and sentenced to 20 and 18 years in prison, effective immediately. 

  The suspects in the deadly shooting outside adult entertainment club El Capitan in Sucker Garden on December 31, 2018, were free men. This changed after 1:45pm on Thursday, when their verdicts were read in the Philipsburg Mutual Improvement Association (PMIA) Hall on Back Street. The court ordered their detention.

  Present in the PMIA Hall were relatives of Mauricia Lopez Gomez (28) who died in the StMaarten Medical Center (SMMC) emergency room after being shot at six times from guns Ottley and Richardson pointed at him from behind.

  According to the police, camera images from the El Capitan parking lot show that Gomez ran away and was almost immediately shot four times by Ottley. Co-perpetrator Richardson then took two steps forward and shot Gomez twice.

  The court finds, on the basis of closed-circuit TV (CCTV) camera footage, that Gomez’s friend W. James, who was with Gomez in El Capitan that New Year’s Eve, immediately runs away at the moment Gomez is shot. It has been observed that Ottley turned around and, walking behind James, shot at him once. Richardson then also turned around towards James and shot James eight times. James survived the attempt on his life because he was wearing a bulletproof vest.

  An investigating officer later stated, “On December 31, 2018, I ran to the victim who was lying in the parking lot of El Capitan. I heard the victim say his name was James.

  “I saw that he was wearing a safety vest. I saw that there was a bullet hole in his arm. I saw a wound on his left thigh. I only saw a hole where a bullet went in. I saw that he had a wound on his right foot. I saw that there was a bullet at the bottom of the right shoe which I pulled out. I saw blood on his back. I found out that two bullets had been stopped by the vest he was wearing.”

  The attending surgeon stated that James had suffered severe blood loss from multiple shot wounds and that these injuries could have caused death.

  The court finds that Ottley and Richardson were out together at the El Capitan nightclub. There, Ottley was approached by Gomez who accused him of having something to do with a fatal shooting earlier that month. This is evident from the statements of the convicts and of James.

  El Capitan’s CCTV footage shows that at some point Ottley and Richardson left the nightclub together, stayed in the parking lot, and a few minutes later Gomez and James also left the club. An altercation took place

  Richardson insisted during the appeals that Gomez threatened him with death. According to both Richardson and Ottley, the victims were the aggressors. There would have been a life-threatening situation for them. They claimed they had to shoot them to prevent that they themselves would be killed.

  The court considers this statement to be implausible. “First of all, this statement does not correspond to the statement of witness P., who was able to observe everything up close. He stated to the examining magistrate that Gomez was noisy, but not aggressive, and that James appeared neutral to him.”

  According to the court, the camera images also do not show that Gomez and James were aggressive. The court finds that the bystanders P. and J. do not distance themselves from the men at any time and seem to stand quietly while the altercation took place. “This is difficult to reconcile with the outlined life-threatening situation that would be going on at the hands of Gomez and James.”

  The camera images prompt the court to conclude that Ottley and Richardson were to be regarded as aggressors. Gomez was first pushed and then beaten twice. He then ran away and was shot at from behind. Two bullets drilled into his lower back.

  Witnesses did not testify that the two victims drew or possessed a weapon. No weapons were found with them either. The court did not consider plausible Ottley’s statement that James had a firearm and that he took it from him after James was shot and lying on the ground, because “this statement is not supported by the camera footage.”

  The convicts have not been able to present James’ alleged weapon, nor indicate where this weapon would have been placed or left behind by them. 

  According to the court, there is no doubt that the shooting shocked the people of St. Maarten and caused feelings of fear and insecurity in society. “The uncontrolled possession of firearms, as this case has shown, often leads to the committing of very serious crimes,” the court stated in its verdict.

  In determining the sentence for Ottley, the court took into account the fact that he had previously been convicted of committing a violent crime. The Court of Appeal concluded that an unconditional 20-year prison sentence with deduction of pre-trial detention is appropriate.

  Richardson, 19 years old at the time of the shooting, had no criminal record and this was reason for the court to impose a lower prison sentence on him. However, the eight-year sentence also includes the conviction for another offence: assault on an unarmed victim.

  The court considers it proven that on September 27, 2020, outside Madame Estate Cake House, Richardson intentionally inflicted bodily harm on the man B.T.B. by kicking and punching him while he was lying on the road surface. Richardson did this together with Mhalik Ottley (26), who was sentenced to five months in prison for this abuse.

  This sentence was imposed partly because the offender had already been irrevocably convicted for a similar offence. His older brother Dante Ottley can also be seen on the Cake House camera footage.

  With the annulment of the first verdict in the El Capitan shooting, there is some relief for the victim’s family from Saba. More than three years after they laid Gomez to rest, they have been awarded their claim for the funeral cost in St. Maarten, as well as the trip and stay of family for his farewell, in total $20,463.66. Ottley and Richardson are jointly and severally liable for the payment thereof.

The Daily Herald

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