Court of Appeal cuts 71-year sentence for man who murdered wife at Herstelling

-will now serve 30 years

Geoffrey Ward

Geoffrey Ward, who was in 2013 convicted of the stabbing death of his wife, yesterday had his 71-year sentence reduced to 30 years by the Guyana Court of Appeal.

The court in hearing the case which was filed by his attorney, Everton Singh-Lammy, dismissed the appeal against the conviction but allowed the appeal against the murder sentence.

High Court Judge Navindra Singh on November 15, 2013  handed down the sentence which would have seen the then 62-year-old man spending the rest of his natural life behind bars. Ward was on trial for the murder of Donette Ward, who was fatally stabbed on April 24, 2010 at Herstelling, East Bank Demerara.

Donette Ward

In reading his ruling, Appellate Judge Arif Bulkan pointed out that this is yet another matter concerning inter personal violence being dealt with by the court. After recounting evidence given by the dead woman’s niece, Stacy De Cambra and the gruesome injuries the deceased sustained, the judge said that he found no evidence to support the contention of self-defence and provocation. These were among the grounds of appeal outlined by the attorney.

According to Bulkan, the cross-examination at the trial stage raised several inconsistencies which were drawn to the attention of the jury by the trial judge who provided them with some direction as to how to deal with them.

In questioning whether there was evidence to support self-defence and provocation, Justice Bulkan relied on the evidence presented during the trial. He pointed out that the pathologist had testified that the woman would have died of the stab wounds which perforated her lungs within 10 to 15 minutes of them being inflicted. He said after reviewing the evidence he had “little difficulty” rejecting the submission of provocation and self-defence.

He pointed out that the word alone does not constitute provocation and that nothing was raised during the trial to support this contention.

Justice Bulkan noted the severity of the injuries inflicted on the woman which were all over her body including her thighs, forearms, chest and both breasts. The injury to the forearm was so severe, he said, that all the muscle and bone were exposed. He stressed that based on his review of the evidence, the trial judge committed no error and did not act unfairly in any way. As a matter of fact, he said there was “no merit” in any of the grounds of appeals which were outlined.

Noting though that the length of the custodial sentence warrants review, the appellate judge said that after considering all of the submissions and the time spent in custody the court has quashed the 71-year sentence and is imposing 30 years imprisonment.

Fellow appellate judges Chancellor (ag) Yonette Cummings-Edwards and Senior Counsel Rafiq Khan expressed full agreement with Justice Bulkan.

On the matter of sentencing, the court relied on a 2010 amendment to the law governing the capital offence of murder, which gives the court the authority to impose life imprisonment or the number of years behind bars that it deems fit.

On the day of the murder, Ward who had arrived from Barbados days earlier was at her mother’s home at Herstelling. Her husband went there and an argument ensued between them, during which he stabbed her several times about the body with a knife. The wounded woman was later taken to the Diamond Diagnostic Centre where she was pronounced dead on arrival. The man also allegedly attacked his niece, De Cambra, who managed to escape unhurt.

Ward had led his defence in an unsworn statement where he said that he was innocent of the crime.

Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Stacy Gooding represented the state in the appeal.

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