Saturday, December 16, 2017

'Mr Fete' free to fete


SENTENCING ADJOURNED: A fan walks alongside soca star Machel Montano, centre, and attorney Keith Scotland, left, as they leave the Port of Spain Magistrates' Court yesterday, after appearing before Magistrate Maureen Baboolal-Gafoor. —Photo: STEPHEN DOOBAY

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"Mr Fete" is free to fete.

As he promised, soca superstar Machel Montano will headline his Machel Monday concert on February 4.

He will also defend both his Power and Groovy Soca Monarch titles come Fantastic Friday.

This after a Port of Spain magistrate yesterday adjourned sentencing him as scheduled after he was found guilty of five criminal charges last month.

Since the guilty verdicts were handed down, the question on many people's lips was whether Montano would be spending the Carnival season behind prison walls.

That question was answered yesterday.

Magistrate Maureen Baboolal-Gafoor adjourned sentencing to February 25, giving herself time to consider legal submissions made yesterday by both the State and defence attorneys in the matter on the issue of whether community service would be a suitable sentence.

On December 10, Baboolal-Gafoor found Montano guilty on four assault charges and an additional charge of using obscene language in 2007.

Charged alongside him on two assault charges is songwriter and producer Kernal Roberts who was also found guilty.

The two arrived at the courthouse shortly after 9 a.m. with several fans greeting them before they proceeded into the Seventh Court before Baboolal-Gafoor.

Both Montano and Roberts were supposed to provide to the court a probation officer's report before sentence was handed down but those reports were not obtained.

Shortly after the matter was called, Montano's attorney Dana Seetahal SC explained she was of the opinion that the Probation Officers Department would have contacted Montano in order to have that report prepared but this was not done.

In response, the magistrate said this was not the process by which such a report was obtained. She explained that the attorneys needed to advise their clients that they should have visited the Probation Officers Department in order to have the reports prepared.

Senior State prosecutor George Busby later informed the court that he wanted to respond to the mitigation pleas made by the attorneys for both Montano and Roberts the day they were found guilty.

Busby said community service was not applicable on two of the charges against the duo. The charges are that both Montano and Roberts assaulted Brandis Browne and Russell Pollonais occasioning actual bodily harm.

The other two charges brought against Montano were that he committed the act of common assault against Gerard Bowrin and Janelle Lee Chee.

Those offences are alleged to have taken place on the morning of April 26, 2007, outside the Zen nightclub in Port of Spain, during a fracas.

Initially, Rodney "Benjai" LeBlanc and Joel "Zan" Feveck were also charged together with Montano and Roberts, but they were both found not guilty.

Founder of Caribbean Prestige Foundation, William Munro, along with Feveck, were two of the many supporters of the men who sat in the packed-to-capacity courtroom. LeBlanc was not seen in the room.

Police officers stood guard at the doorway leading into the courtroom and on occasions, had to keep the door locked to prevent several other people who wanted to listen to the matter from entering.

Some members of the media were also locked out of the courtroom.

During his submissions, Busby said following Seetahal's mitigation plea and that of Roberts' attorney Keith Scotland, he spoke with the attorneys and informed them he would have been responding to their submissions yesterday.

Busby said according to law, community service was not applicable to a charge of assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

Additionally, he said based on the aggravating factors in the matters, more severe sentences needed to be handed down.

This led to a legal battle between him and Seetahal. Seetahal said there were several other matters that had been heard in the High Court before a judge and jury with people who committed much more serious acts of assault on individuals having community service handed down as their sentence.

She argued that "it would be a travesty of justice" if these people, some of whom also had criminal records attached to their names, could be sentenced to community service on indictable charges in the High Court and the same sentence not passed on her client in a summary matter in the lower court.

In response, Busby said in those matters referred to by Seetahal, the accused persons were charged under Section 14 of the Offences Against the Person Act and not Section 30 under which Montano and Roberts were charged.

Scotland said he was adopting Seetahal's submissions as they related to the community service application.

Following the three-hour-long legal battle, Seetahal submitted 14 testimonials on behalf of Montano, written by people who have known and worked together with him over the years. Eight testimonials were submitted by Scotland on behalf of Roberts.

Some of the testimonials submitted on behalf of Montano came from former culture minister under the People's National Movement (PNM) Joan Yuille-Williams, the principal of Presentation College in San Fernando where Montano is a past student and ex-convict Patterson Matthews.

In summarising Matthews' testimonial, Seetahal told the court Matthews was charged with murder but was released from prison after more than 18 years on the lesser count of manslaughter.

She said Matthews noted in his testimonial that while in prison, Montano was his counsellor who supported him through his difficulties. Montano became an inspiration to Matthews, giving him a different outlook on life and leading him to live a more positive life, she said.

It was because of Montano's support and encouragement that Matthews was able to turn his life around, she added. Matthews is now employed as a hospital attendant and also as a boxing coach, said Seetahal.