Clarendon ‘butcher’ won’t hang - Guilty plea saves Rushane Barnett from hangman’s noose

September 23, 2022
Rushane Barnett
Rushane Barnett
Kemesha Wright and her four children from Cocoa Piece, Clarendon, who were murdered by their cousin, Rushane Barnett.
Kemesha Wright and her four children from Cocoa Piece, Clarendon, who were murdered by their cousin, Rushane Barnett.

On three occasions on Thursday, an emotionally drained Gwendolyn Wright McKnight broke down in tears inside the Home Circuit Court as lawyers made submissions about an appropriate sentencing for Rushane Barnett, the man who killed her daughter and four grandchildren.

Barnett, who is McKnight's nephew, pleaded guilty in July to the murders of Kemesha Wright, Kimanda Smith, 15, Sharalee Smith, 12, Rafaella Smith, 5 and 23-month-old Kishawn Henry Jr. Their bodies, with a combined 100-plus stab and chop wounds, were found inside their Cocoa Piece home in Clarendon on June 21.

Paula Llewellyn, the country's Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), at the start of the trial, indicated that the State would be seeking the death penalty for the 23-year-old Barnett. However, yesterday she said it was no longer on the table.

"The Crown is obliged to remove the death penalty as an option," Llewellyn explained. "This is a matter of law. Everyone who pleads guilty is entitled to some amount of credit."

Jamaica, despite having capital punishment on the books, has not executed anyone since 1988.

Yesterday, McKnight's body trembled as the DPP stated the reason the Crown was no longer seeking the death sentence. She then began to cry, and this attracted the attention of presiding judge Justice Leighton Pusey. The judge told court marshals to "let her stay if she wanted to".

Another low point for McKnight occurred during the reading of her victim impact statement by the Court's registrar, which she submitted to the Crown.

In the statement, McKnight said that she was surprised by Barnett's actions given the love and support that her daughter and children showed him.

"There is a man by the name of Arthur Shepherd, who used to sell coal in the community and 'Chunni' went to him and asked him if he could carry her cousin with him to sell coal and he did, thus causing him to earn a small change in his pocket. This is how loving and caring my daughter was to Rushane. She took him on as a member of her immediate family, so it was very, very surprising to me and other persons in the community to see what he did to Kemesha and her children.... since her death, I can hardly sleep at nights. I am constantly having nightmares, which causes me to cry many, many nights because of the memory I shared with she and my grandchildren. I am so lost without them, they were my life," McKnight said in the statement.

In a report from a forensic psychiatrist who interviewed Barnett on July 27, the doctor said Barnett lacked openness, does not accept responsibility, is unreliable, displays adult antisocial behaviour and lacks empathy.

The report said Barnett told the psychiatrist that "voices in his head" told him to commit the murders.

Llewellyn suggested that presiding judge Pusey goes outside the normal sentence range of 15 years to life in prison. She said Barnett should serve 60 years and nine months before being eligible for parole, stressing that a lower sentence may "shock public confidence".

Barnett's lawyer, Tamika Harris, asked the judge to give him a 33 1/3 per cent discount on the sentence as a result of his early plea.

The sentencing has been set for October 20 in the Home Circuit Court.

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