Man gets seven years for fondling girl, 9

Maurice Fernandes

Maurice Fernandes, 55, who was found guilty of fondling a nine-year-old girl, was yesterday sentenced to seven years in jail for the crime.

Justice Jo-Ann Barlow, who presided over the in-camera trial at the Sexual Offences Court, handed down the sentence and noted that Fernandes had not only stolen the child’s innocence but that he also destroyed the trust she reposed in him.

Commenting on what she said was the obvious trust and love the child had for the convict, who assisted her with her academic studies even when her own parents did not, the judge referenced the victim impact statement which mentioned that the girl even recanted the assault allegation to protect Fernandes from being imprisoned.

This, the court noted, is a tormenting thought with which the child now has to live, and for which she must continue to be given the necessary professional guidance and counselling to help her cope.

By a proportion of 10 to 2, a jury late last month convicted Fernandes of rubbing the girl’s genitals sometime between October 1st and October 31st of 2016.

His sentencing, however, had been deferred to facilitate the presentation of a probation report.

According to the report presented by Probation and Social Services Officer Sheneila Wilson, residents of the community in which Fernandes lived were shocked at the allegations levelled against him.

According to the report, the father of four was described as a well-respected, responsible and helpful member of his community and a person who particularly cared about the development of youths.

Wilson said that an interview with the head teacher of the school the child attends revealed that the girl was withdrawn, but there was also optimism that she was coping much better.

As for the convict, however, the probation officer said the devout Catholic maintained his innocence, declaring that he has always sought to be of good character. 

Meanwhile, the child’s counsellor, Raynasha Callender, who presented the victim impact report of what she said were the thoughts expressed by the now 11-year-old, related the untruths the girl had told in a bid to protect Fernandes.

The statement began by detailing what the young girl is reported to have described as both her satisfaction in knowing that she had finally spoken the truth about the assault.

According to the statement, the child had kept from telling her mother about the assault for quite some time because of threats her abuser made coupled with his insistence that the woman would become angry and not believe her.

In spite of this, however, the court heard that the child nevertheless made efforts to complain about what had happened to her, but she never got the chance. 

“I did not know what to do,” the statement quoted the child as saying.

The child, according to the statement, said that it was during her school’s observance of child abuse week that she used the opportunity to talk to her teacher about what had transpired.

After learning that the man could be imprisoned for what he had done to her, the statement detailed the young girl’s recanting of her story on several subsequent occasions, particularly since her mother had become upset with her.

“I wanted him to go home and for my mother to be happy,” the statement quoted the girl as saying.

The court then heard that as a result, the child changed her story and thereafter visited the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, where she related that she had not been assaulted.

The child, according to statement, said that she knew that she should speak the truth even if it made her mother angry, and so she eventually told the police and prosecutors what had happened to her.

Meanwhile, in her brief address to the court, defence attorney Tiffany Jeffrey asked the court to be merciful towards her client, while noting that he was quite contrite.

Begging for mercy on the man’s behalf, Jeffrey sought to argue that the charge for which her client was convicted fell on the lower end of the sexual offences scale.

Justice Barlow, however, was quick to point out that the offence can be so viewed only against the backdrop of the relatively low maximum sentence of 10 years which it attracts, when compared to other sexual offences categories which carry life sentences.

The judge noted, however, that even though the child had not been penetrated, the assault committed on her was no less severe and amounted to a violation of the child’s body.

Noting that he had used his position of trust to silence the child from reporting the assault, Justice Barlow in a stern reprimand told the convict that a strong message needed to be sent to potential offenders that such vile acts would not be condoned in any form or fashion.

Referencing evidence presented at trial, the judge told Fernandes it was unfortunate that given the position of trust he held he violated her in the end.

Citing the probation report which suggested that Fernandes was seen to be of an upstanding character, Justice Barlow impressed upon him that having known better, he should have so done.

The judge commenced his sentence at eight years, from which she deducted one year for the positive academic influence she said Fernandes had on the child’s life.

This, the judge said, was the only existing mitigating factor. 

In addition to being sentenced, the court ordered that the convict participate in whatever rehabilitative programmes the prison has for such offenders.

She also ordered that the child continues receiving counselling and guidance from all her support persons.  Prior to the new sentence, Fernandes has been serving an 18-month sentence for sexually assaulting the same child.

Prosecutor Abigail Gibbs led the state’s case in association with state counsel Narissa Leander.

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