Ex-soldier gets 15 years for accidental shooting of best friend

Former Guyana Defence Force (GDF) soldier Allister Woolford was yesterday sentenced to 15 years in prison for what he had said was the “accidental” shooting death of a man he described as being his best friend.

“Your conduct was reprehensible, irresponsible, reckless and unbecoming,” trial judge Sandil Kissoon told a visibly expressionless Woolford at the High Court, while adding that not only had he killed his best friend for no reason, but that by his actions he failed society, himself and the force.

“Your friend paid the ultimate price for your irresponsible conduct,” the judge added, while also reminding the convict that his explanation of not knowing that the gun was loaded was also irresponsible and poor.

 At the conclusion of a trial earlier this month, Woolford was convicted by a proportion of 10 to 2 by a 12-member jury for the offence of manslaughter over the unlawful killing of Devon Howell, whom he shot to the head on November 21st, 2014.

His sentence had, however, been deferred for a probation report, which was presented before Justice Kissoon in Georgetown yesterday afternoon.

According to the report, which was read to the court, Woolford had expressed remorse for his actions. The Probation and Social Services officer who interviewed the young man said he conveyed being constantly tormented by what has happened.

The officer said that while the convict has repeatedly described the incident as an accident, the consequences of his actions cannot be excused nor justified by the explanation that he was “playing around” with the weapon.

The Social Worker said that as a trained soldier, who was described as disciplined and “having the potential to rise,” Woolford ought to have conducted himself in a more responsible manner by recognising that he had been entrusted with a dangerous  weapon.

While the probation report spoke of the convict’s remorse, however, at no time did Woolford or his attorney Compton Richardson say that he was sorry for his action—a fact which was pointed out by the judge.

Justice Kissoon said that a case such as Woolford’s should not have gone to trial given the primary facts involved, among which was the undisputed fact and Woolford’s admission that he had shot Howell, albeit his claim that it was an accident.

The judge said that there were pre-trial discussions with Richardson about a matter such as this not being taken before a jury, yet was contested in a trial.

Meanwhile, mother of the deceased Allison Howell, who was given the chance to make a victim impact statement to the court, firmly said that she will never forgive Woolford for taking her son’s life, as neither he nor his family ever offered an apology to her.

According to her, the two had been friends for about five months. She said that part of the reason she could not find it in her heart to forgive her son’s killer was the fact that Devon had been sleeping when Woolford came and requested that he go on the road with him.

The tearful mother said that to Woolford’s insistent requests of wanting Devon to go on the road, she repeatedly told him that he was asleep. She told the court that sometime after, her son awoke and when she enquired where he was going, he told her around the corner with Allister. “That was the last time I saw my son alive,” the woman said.

Justice Kissoon said the court could not understand how Woolford admitted the primary facts of the case, yet contested the case at trial and still would not apologise for his actions.

“Your plea of not guilty and a long trial does not show remorse,” the judge said.

Recalling the evidence presented, the judge noted that the young man had himself said, “I pointed the firearm and squeezed the trigger.”

Describing the death as unfortunate to someone he said was his friend, Justice Kissoon told Woolford that as a trained soldier, he would have been aware of the guidelines and safety measures for the use of a firearm.

Referencing the probation report, which also alluded to the convict using a narcotic on the day of the shooting, the judge said it was an “indictment” and chided Woolford over the duty and responsibility which he had to be responsible in accordance with his oath to protect.

The judge commenced Woolford’s sentence at a base of 25 years, from which he deducted six years for the probation report, which he said was favourable to the convict, and an additional four years for mitigating factors. 

Noting that there is a difference between a contested trial and a guilty plea—with Woolford opting for the former even in the face of the evidence against him—Justice Kissoon informed him that no consideration could be made for reduction from the base sentence in this regard.

The 24-year-old was reduced to tears when the 15-year prison sentence was announced.

On November 21st, 2014, Howell, formerly of 87 Da Silva Street, Newtown, Kitty, and four other young men were in a house on D’Andrade Street, where the shooting occurred. Howell was rushed to the Georgetown Public Hospital, where he eventually succumbed almost three weeks after the incident. His upper spinal cord was reportedly damaged as a result of the shot and he never regained consciousness.

 

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