Appeal Court upholds wife killer’s 24-year sentence

The Court of Appeal yesterday denied Hubert Pilgrim’s request for a reduction of the 24-year sentence he is currently serving for the stabbing death of his common-law wife, Natalie Loncke.

Pilgrim was initially indicted for the capital offence but later admitted to the lesser offence of manslaughter, admitting that he unlawfully killed the nursery school teacher on the night of February 12th, 2011, at her Norton Street home.

High Court judge Justice Diana Insanally subsequently sentenced Pilgrim to 24 years behind bars.

Arguing that the sentence imposed was “unduly harsh,” Pilgrim had applied to the Court of Appeal seeking a reduction.

The court, however, affirmed the sentence, while noting that having considered all the circumstances of the case, the amount imposed was not “manifestly excessive.”

Citing case law, Justice of Appeal Rishi Persaud, who delivered the court’s ruling, said that an appellate court is to interfere with a sentence only where it is found to be manifestly excessive or wrong in principle.

“It is only when a sentence errs in principle that an appellate court would interfere or alter it,” the judge declared.

Noting that there had been no details in the case file indicating what factors Justice Insanally may or may not have considered in arriving at the sentence, counsel for the appellant, Sonia Parag, argued that clearly no remission was given for time spent on remand.

Parag argued that her client had accepted responsibility at the first given opportunity, thus saving the court considerable time in otherwise having to conduct a trial.

It was her contention as well that Pilgrim had been provoked by Loncke and that he could not therefore have been regarded as having had the intention required for murder.

These, she said, are mitigating factors the court ought to have considered as a guide to imposing sentence. She suggested that 12 or 15 years could be considered as being reasonable.

Prosecutor Dionne McCammon, however, refuted Parag’s claims, arguing that it was Pilgrim who at all material times was the aggressor and that his sentence was not severe.

She said, too, that considering the maximum sentence for manslaughter is life imprisonment, a 24-year sentence was more than reasonable.

The prosecutor begged the court to consider Pilgrim’s conduct before and after the commission of the crime. She said at no time did he try to report the matter to police, but instead he fled the country.

“This was an unarmed, defenceless woman, who was attacked and killed, while her daughter was wounded in the process,” McCammon argued on behalf of the state.

To Parag’s reference of case law to substantiate her suggestion of a 12 to 15 years sentence, Justice of Appeal Arif Bulkan, who also heard the appeal, was quick to instruct that while precedents exist to guide, every case has to be decided on its own facts.

Pointing out the rise of domestic violence, Justice Bulkan enquired from counsel whether she thought such sentences were sufficient to deter potential offenders.

While agreeing that such cases are on the increase, Parag said that this was “in the bigger picture.” She, however, expressed the belief that in an individual case, after 12 or 15 years’ incarceration someone can be reformed and return to society to make valuable contributions.

Declaring the sentence imposed upon Pilgrim as not being excessive, Justice Persaud said the interest of the public was paramount to the court.

The court had taken issue with the defence’s reference to the loss of life as “unfortunate,” while noting that it represented a “cold and callous” disregard for life, especially given that the scourge of domestic violence is on the rise.

“Having reviewed the sentence, we do not find that it was wrong in principle or that it was manifestly excessive,” Justice Persaud said.

While the court affirmed the sentence, however, it did grant remission for the two years Pilgrim had spent on remand awaiting trial.

As a result, it ordered that the sentence be seen as having commenced from July of 2011, when he was incarcerated, and not from December 12th, 2013, when he pleaded guilty.

The judge said that there was nothing from the record to suggest that this deduction had been made, while noting that remission must be granted as a matter of law and not be left to the judge’s discretion.

Apart from Justices Bulkan and Persaud, the appeal was also heard by Justice of Appeal Rafiq Khan.

According to reports, Loncke was stabbed in the head by Pilgrim after a domestic violence argument turned violent.

She succumbed to two stab wounds about fifteen minutes after being rushed to the Georgetown Public Hospital in an unconscious state.

Her daughter had sustained a small bruise to the left side of her face during the attack.

A wanted bulletin had to be issued for Pilgrim, who was captured several months later in Suriname, after a report of assault was made against him.

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