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Residents divided on whether Uchence Wilson should return to hometown

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RESIDENTS in the hometown of convicted gang leader Uchence “Terrence” Wilson, where he lived and operated three businesses, are divided on whether they want him to return to the community.

According to information gathered by probation officers for Wilson’s social enquiry report, which was ordered by Chief Justice Bryan Sykes, “Some community members said he could return as long as he did not behave in a certain way, while others said they didn’t want him back.”

This, as the court yesterday reviewed the social enquiry and police antecedent reports and heard mitigation pleas from attorneys ahead of tomorrow’s declaration of the sentences for Wilson and eight others in what has become known as the Uchence Wilson Gang Trial.

Wilson and 23 others were arrested by the Counter-Terrorism and Organized Crime Investigation Branch (C-TOC) in 2017 and were said to be part of one of the island’s most organised and vile gangs, that was responsible for robberies, extortion, rapes, murders, and the theft of a number of licensed firearms.

By the end of the trial in October this year, 15 of them had been acquitted and nine convicted under the Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organisations) Act or anti-gang legislation.

Wilson, who was declared guilty of being the leader of the St Catherine-based gang, was also found guilty of illegal possession of firearm and shooting with intent.

Yesterday, Wilson’s attorney, Lloyd McFarlane, while noting the sentiments of the community members, said: “One thing is clear, he is a hard-working man. He has been a caring father for his children, caring toward his spouse, and a caring son to his mother for whom he was finishing up some improvements to her house before he was arrested.”

In pointing out what he said was an earlier observation by the chief justice that the incidents of firearms being discharged was not done with intent to kill anyone, McFarlane argued his client’s “leadership was not one of a certain nature; they were thieves, they robbed”.

“I am asking the court, in sentencing Mr Wilson on these counts, to have the counts run concurrently,” the attorney said, while also prevailing on the court to consider that Wilson, during his incarceration, has been suffering pain from a bullet still lodged in his arm which he received during a shooting incident with the police prior to his arrest in 2017. Furthermore, he said, the three years and three months spent by his client behind bars has already “not been a cakewalk”.

Of his client’s capacity for reform, he said, this was “tricky”, as Wilson, based on the report, had not shown any remorse. He said, however, that his obvious care for his family was indicative of someone who has the capacity for reform.

In the meantime, the attorney for Fitzroy Scott — the alleged second-in-command of the criminal outfit — said the 40-year-old entrepreneur and car salesman, who was earning between $150,000 and $500,000 per month depending on sales, while he was “not a young man, has the capacity for rehabilitation and was gainfully employed, and from a respectable family”, according to community members.

Yesterday, 37-year-old mason, ‘steel man’, and farmer Stephenson Bennett was moved to tears during his attorney’s address.

The court was told that Bennett, who was earning over $40,000 per week from his two jobs, is a father of six, including four-year-old twin boys, and the sole breadwinner. The court also heard he was also responsible for his mother, who is terminally ill.

The court was told that Bennett, who had no previous convictions, was well spoken of by community members who said he was a “good neighbour, courteous and respectful”.

Bennett, overcome by emotions, wiped tears above his mask, shaking his head, all to the amusement of co-convict Michael Lamont, who smiled and shook his own head.

The court also heard from attorneys for convicts Machel Goulbourne, Lamont, Derron Taylor, Lanworth Geohagen, Sheldon Christian, and Odeen Smith based on their police antecedent and social enquiry reports.

The attorney for Lamont, noting that he was between 18 and 21 years of age at the time of the offences, said he could have been the victim of peer pressure. According to the attorney, community members said Lamont was a humble young man “who appears to be a simpleton, which may be the reason for his current situation”.

Meanwhile, the court was asked to attribute Taylor’s maintaining his innocence to his being “ashamed”. The court was told that Taylor, a 37-year-old higgler dealing in ladies’ clothes and a registered importer for about 20 years, earned $50,000 per week on average, and was regarded as a quiet individual.

Attorney for Geohagen, noting that the 38-year-old taxi operator had no previous convictions, said community members told probation officers he is not known to engage in deviant activities and is not a troublemaker. The court was also asked to be mindful of the fact that “the entire community was unanimous that the now convict was not a threat, and had no reservations to him returning”, going further to ask the court to be lenient on him and give him a non-custodial sentence as he is not a threat.

Attorney for Taylor, Christopher Townsend, in the meantime, said his client had spent three years and seven months in a lock-up, which had not been a walkover.

“Lock-ups I call hard custody, where you spend time in close custody to others as against in the prisons… Our lock-ups are akin to the Middle Passage, where men are packed in close quarters…” Townsend said in asking the judge to consider the time already spent behind bars by his client.

The attorney for 35-year-old Christian said the taxi operator was of medium risk to children and adults, and no risk to himself, and was seen by probation officers as a redeemable character. However, the court was told that community members had expressed concern that he associated with “untoward characters”. Noting that he has been in custody since 2017, the attorney urged the judge to consider that a more suitable sentence could be one that assists in his rehabilitation.

Yesterday, the attorney for Smith, a single father of a four year old, begged the court to show leniency towards him, noting that he had no previous convictions and was seen as a hard-working individual by community members.

The chief justice, responding to the addresses, said: “The sentences for a number of these offences are really maximum sentences. When you look through the legislation, the general thinking is maximum sentencing is reserved for the worst of the worst cases of that kind. In this particular case, the first task of the judge will be to select an appropriate starting point; the sentence may be increased or decreased, taking into account the aggravating and mitigating circumstances.”

The chief justice said he will detail the sentencing considerations on Wednesday at 10:00 am.

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