Lawyer for Clarendon murder-accused saddened by backlash
Tamika Harris, the lawyer representing Rushane Barnett who has been accused of killing his cousin and her four children, has described as “sad” and “surprising” the venom that has been spewed in her direction as a result of her involvement in the case.
Barnett has been accused of killing 31-year-old Kemesha Wright and her four children — Kimanda Smith, 15, Sharalee Smith, 12, Rafaella Smith, five, and 23-month-old Kishawn Henry Jr, — at their home in Cocoa Piece, Clarendon, on June 21.
Harris, who is Barnett’s court-appointed lawyer, has been on the receiving end of a seemingly endless string of disgusting comments because she has dared to take on the case.
“It makes me feel sad that so many persons are not cognisant of the process. It is part of our judicial system that every accused needs legal representation. What also makes me sad, too, is for people to associate representing someone to mean that you have accepted and condone whatever gruesomeness that the allegations say they do,” Harris told THE STAR yesterday.
An attorney who practises at the criminal bar, Harris has been involved in several high-profile cases, among them being in the Vybz Kartel murder trial in which she was the lawyer for Kahira Jones. She was also a defence lawyer for one of the men convicted of the brutal killing and beheading of a St Catherine mother and her daughter in 2011, and described the allegations in both cases as “gruesome”.
The defence lawyer also represented Ochest Rose, who was recently sentenced to life in prison for the 2020 murder of his one-time stepson, Galen Buchanan. The body of the eight-year-old boy, with its hands bound, was found on January 23, 2020 in the Kingston Harbour, two days after he went missing from his father’s home.
“It is not new or strange for me to do these matters,” Harris said. “What I do is say to myself that these persons are still human beings and they are going to be facing a judge and a court and other lawyers. They at least need to know what the system is. They need to understand what is happening. They need to know what their options are and the law needs to be explained to them. They need legal representation.”
Harris said that although being defence counsel sometimes attracts backlash, she has never before experienced the level of venom that has been associated with the Barnett case.
“This is new,” she said while referencing a social media comment that read: ‘She want a broad board across her back’. She said that what upsets her is when people say as a woman, she has no heart.
“The gender bias is real and the expectation of what a female attorney does and what a male attorney does, it’s amazing that persons still hold this specific gender roles. That’s what stands out in my mind,” she said.
Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn has served notice that the Crown will be seeking the death penalty for Barnett. For Harris, however, capital punishment is not something that finds favour with her.
“I am against the death penalty in all the circumstances. The death penalty, to me, is state-sanctioned reprisal killing and people like revenge and not justice,” Harris said.
“I think it [death penalty] must be in a situation where there is absolutely no hope for rehabilitation,” she said.”You only use it when the person is irredeemable and you have to give the person a chance to show that they are irredeemable,” Harris said, adding that once the person is young, then there is the possibility of change.
The attorney was tight-lipped with regard to information about Barnett, but shared that “he is a little apprehensive at this time”.