celebratory mood: Liz Montano celebrates with her son Machel, right, and Kernal Roberts at Justitia Omnibus law chambers on Abercromby Street, Port of Spain yesterday after both men, who were convicted of assault charges, were ordered to compensate their victims and pay fines to the court. —Photo: ANISTO ALVES

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Machel spared jail

By Rickie Ramdass rickie.ramdass@trinidadexpress.com

SOCA STAR Machel Montano was yesterday spared a possible jail sentence after he was convicted of four assault charges and instead ordered to compensate the victims of the attack as well as pay fines to the court.

In her ruling delivered shortly after 1 p.m., Magistrate Maureen Baboolal-Gafoor rejected a submission for Montano and songwriter Kernal Roberts, who was also convicted on two assault charges, to serve community service for the offences.

Baboolal-Gafoor's decision came almost six years after Montano's first court appearance.

On December 10, last year, Montano was found guilty of assaulting Gerard Bowrin, Janelle Lee Chee, Brandis Browne and Russell Pollonais during a fracas at the Zen nightclub at the corner of Keate and Frederick Streets, Port of Spain, on April 26, 2007.

Roberts was found guilty of assaulting both Browne and Pollonais. Two other artistes, Joel "Zan" Feveck and Rodney "Benjai" LeBlanc's who were also charged alongside Montano and Roberts, were found not guilty.

The magistrate ordered Montano to pay compensation totalling $13,500 and fines totalling $13,700. Roberts was ordered to pay compensation totalling $11,000 and fines totalling $13,000.

Montano, 38, the reigning Groovy Soca Monarch and joint Power Soca Monarch champ, faced an additional charge of using obscene language, but he was reprimanded and discharged for that offence.

Failure to pay the fines could see both Montano and Roberts facing up to two years in prison. Both men were allowed until March 4 to pay the compensation and fines.

Speaking to the media after the decision, Montano said the duration of the matter was a trying time for him to stay strong and focused.

"But I live one day at a time and I will continue to do that. The love I received from my fans and my family is very much appreciated because love is what keep me going. I also want to say thanks to all of the attorneys who represented us over these years," he said.

Yesterday's hearing was initially scheduled to be called during the morning period, but it was delayed as Baboolal-Gafoor became trapped in the traffic gridlock caused by the blockade of the Beetham Highway by protesting Sea Lots residents.

At 10 a.m., police officers opened the doors leading to the Seventh Court where the matter would later be called. Media workers, along with supporters of the men tried to squeeze their way into the room.

Among the supporters were president and founder of Caribbean Prestige Foundation William Munro along with soca artistes Darryl "Farmer Nappy" Henry and Cassiano "Cassie" Sylvester.

Less then a minute later, Chief Magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar called the matter. Only present at that time was Roberts. The matter was stood down for a brief period and re-called shortly after upon Montano's arrival.

The magistrate informed both the prosecution and defence attorneys that Baboolal-Gafoor became trapped in traffic and asked that the matter be stood down until 1 p.m., when she would deliver her ruling.

Again, as the doors leading into the courtroom were opened during the afternoon period, there was a mad rush to enter.

Baboolal-Gafoor proceeded to outline her considerations before arriving at her ruling.

"Having considered the authorities and the submissions by both the prosecution and the defence, the court concludes that these two offences (assault against Brandis Browne and Russell Pollonias occasioning actual bodily harm), amounts to aggravated assault. The ambit of community service is not applicable in these instances," said the magistrate.

The case put forward by the prosecution, led by Senior State Attorney George Busby was that Montano, Roberts and a group of other men had gone to the nightclub in April 2007, to celebrate Montano winning that year's Road March title with "Jumbie".

Later that night, Montano and his entourage left the club and went to Roberts' home before returning to the club shortly after.

It was while in the club that a woman by the name of Helen Ganga proceeded to "wine" on Montano twice. After Montano refused to dance with the woman a third time, an altercation took place between him and Bowrin, resulting in Borwin spilling a drink on Montano and one of his (Montano's) female friends.

In turn, Montano slapped Bowrin to the face and grabbed Lee Chee by the arm. The argument later escalated into a brawl outside the club with Montano and Roberts physically assaulting Pollonais and Browne.

The men first appeared in the Port of Spain Court for the offences on June 4, 2007, before Magistrate Lianne Lee-Kim. During the early stages of the trial, the matter was prosecuted by then Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Carla Brown-Antoine, who replaced by Busby after she was appointed a High Court judge.

Baboolal-Gafoor said, she had also taken into consideration that both Montano and Roberts had clean criminal records and that they have both made positive contributions to this country. She also noted that several written testimonials were submitted to the court outlining the men's good character.

"But the court has to also take into consideration that these are serious offences and that a clear message has to be sent that this type of behaviour will not be tolerated.

"The entire thing should have ended inside the club. Machel Montano and Kernal Roberts could have left the club. The group (Pollonais and other) did retaliate but there was no evidence led that it was a physical attack.

"What is crystal-clear is that Mr Montano attacked Mr Brandis Browne, slapping him with a glass and Mr Pollonais was similarly attacked," said the magistrate before passing sentence.

Following the hearing, both men left the courthouse and hurried over to the Abercromby Street office of attorney Keith Scotland, who represented Roberts.

Asked if attorneys would be appealing Baboolal-Gafoor's ruling, Scotland said he would have to consult with Montano's attorney Dana Seetahal SC to determine the way forward.

"It is an option, so the decision to appeal has not been counted out," said Scotland.

The ruling Machel Montano Assaulted Gerard Borwin: fined $300 or two months imprisonment. Compensation of $1,000 or six weeks imprisonment. Assaulted Janelle Lee Chee: fined $400 or three months imprisonment. Compensation of $1,500 or six weeks imprisonment. Assaulted Brandis Browne occassioning actual bodily harm: fined $3,000 or six months imprisonment. Compensation of $3,000 or six weeks imprisonment. Assaulted Russell Pollonais: fined $10,000 or two years imprisonment. Compensation of $8,000 or six weeks imprisonment. Obscene language: reprimand and discharged. Kernal Roberts Assaulted Brandis Browne occasioning actual bodily harm: fined $3,000 or six months imprisonment. Compensation of $3,000 or six weeks imprisonment. Assaulted Russell Pollonais: fined $10,000 or two years imprisonment. Compensation of $8,000 or six weeks imprisonment. All payments to be made on or before March 4, 2013.

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