Disappointment over short sentence against killer Officer Benjamin

POSTED: 05/6/16 8:44 PM


Prosecution immediately appeals 20-year verdict

St. Maarten News – Anger, frustration and disappointment describe the reaction after the Court in First Instance sentenced Ridge Demisse to 20 years of imprisonment for manslaughter on Police Officer Gamali Benjamin, attempted manslaughter on a second police officer and the armed robbery at the Oro Diamanté jewelry store. The verdict fell way short of the life sentence the prosecution demanded at the trial on April 13. The prosecutor’s office did not comment on the ruling but it acted swiftly by filing an appeal the same day.

“He should get life,” a disappointed police officer grumbled outside of the courthouse. And when the news of the verdict reached the community through social media, the reactions matched the policeman’s disappointment.

“Ridiculous,”, “sad,” and “unbelievable” were some of the reactions. One statement read; “He should never see daylight again. Let him rap from darkness,” while another post suggested “Kill ‘em to hell back when they take the life of your loved one.”

The court sentenced Jovanny Leon, the 20-year-old who came up with the plan for the armed robbery that resulted in Benjamin’s death to 8 years of imprisonment – also far below the 25 years the prosecution demanded at the trial. The prosecutor’s office has also appealed this verdict.

The prosecutor’s office said on Wednesday evening in a press statement that it is “disappointed” and that it disagrees with the verdicts. “The prosecutor’s office is of the opinion that the sentences insufficiently express that this is about a policeman who was shot to death immediately after he intervened in an armed robbery.”

The prosecutor’s office furthermore disagrees with the acquittal of Jovanny Leon of the charges of manslaughter and attempted manslaughter.

The court sentenced Mike Azor, the defendant who supplied the hammer the robbers used at the jewelry store to 2.5 years of imprisonment, exactly half of the prosecution’s demand. A decision about an appeal against this verdict is pending.

Cab driver Obed C., who was also facing a 4 year prison sentence, was acquitted by the court.

The judge threw out the demand for a life sentence against Ridge Damisse, aka rapper Kilo Gotti, because the judge found that he had had no intention to kill Police Officer Benjamin.

At the trial, the prosecution established that Damisse started shooting after Officer Benjamin had called out ‘Freeze!” Four of his bullets hit the police officer; afterwards, he fired another seven shots in the direction of the second police officer.

The court furthermore ruled that Jovanny Leon had no part in the shooting of Officer Benjamin and therefore arrived at a much lower sentence for the armed robbery.

However, the prosecution established at the trial that Leon knew that Damisse had a firearm; he saw how his partner in crime threatened the staff at the jewelry store with it. After the shooting, Leon stuck to Damisse and fled together with him.

The court sentenced Mike Azor to 2.5 years of imprisonment. He supplied the actual robbers – Damisse and Leon – with the hammer they used to smash the showcases in the jewelry store. Investigators also found a clip with live ammunition during a search of Azor’s house. The defendant was also spotted driving through Front Street at the time of the robbery.

The court acquitted cab driver Obed Alvinos C. of all charges, because it found no proof that the defendant had given the video footage someone else had made for him in the store to Damisse or Leon. The dossier does not contain sufficient evidence that the video footage was intended to facilitate the armed robbery, the court ruled and ordered C.’s immediate release.

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