Opinion: A better outcomePOSTED: 05/6/16 8:46 PM
At this moment we are not able to get into the finer points of the court ruling that put the life sentence against Ridge Damisse, the rapper who fatally shot Police Officer Gamali Benjamin on August 5 of last year because the judge took her rulings with her back to Aruba without providing the local press judge with a copy.
So right now we’ll have to make do with a rather crude assessment of the court’s findings. In cases that are clad in such tragedy as the Oro Diamanté robbery there will never be any winners and there will hardly be anybody satisfied with whatever ruling the court has in store.
A beloved and sympathetic policeman had been killed by an angry young rapper whose only explanation for his actions was that one bad decision led to a bad situation. Anybody real close to Gamali Benjamin would want to see the shooter, Ridge Damisse, rot in jail for the rest of his life.
The 24-year-old has been contemplating his fate since the trial on April 13 when the prosecution demanded the ultimate punishment in our legal system: life imprisonment. His partner in crime, Jovanny Leon (the guy who came up with the idea for the armed robbery) heard a demand for 25 years in prison.
From an objective point of view – and we understand that those who are deeply emotionally involved in this case do not give a rat’s behind about objective point of view – Damisse does not deserve a life sentence. It simply does not add up: one armed robbery, one case of manslaughter, one case of attempted manslaughter and firearm possession.
We’re not the experts in case law here, but we figure that there are plenty of comparable cases where the verdict did not come anywhere near a life sentence.
There is however one important difference: the victim was a police officer. And yes: his death sent a real shockwave of anger across the island. But a life sentence? In our hearts, we never thought it would come to that.
The decision the court presented sent another shockwave and we are completely with all those who are disgusted by this verdict – inside and outside the police force, the prosecutor’s office and the circle of friends and family who miss Officer Benjamin so terribly.
If the prosecutor’s office says in a press release that it is disappointed in a verdict, you can be sure that the steam was coming out of the ears of all public prosecutors on Wednesday after they became aware of the rulings.
We figured Damisse would go down for, say, 30 years, maybe something like 28. But 20 years? If the killer behaves (and we don’t know that he will) he has to serve only two third of that sentence.
Grab your calculator: 20 years is 240 months and two third of that is 160: 13 years and 4 months. Since Damisse was arrested on August 5 of last year, he has already served, say, 9 months. If this verdict holds up on appeal, his release is just 12 years and 7 months away. In other words, the rapper could be back on the streets around November 2028; he will be 36 years of age at that time with still an entire life ahead of him.
The court has ruled that the crime does not justify a life sentence. Basically, the judge said that Damisse did not have the intention to kill Officer Benjamin. As we also write in our editorial today, that does not make a lot of sense.
If your gun goes off accidentally and a bullet flies in the direction of someone – yeah, we get it that there was no intent. However, Damisse hit Benjamin with four bullets and then he fired another seven at his fellow officer who came out of the shooting at least physically unharmed.
What is your intention if you fire that many bullets at someone?
The correct answer is: you want to kill that person – and that was also the result of Damisse’s actions.
Then there is the matter of Jovanny Leon. Not guilty of the shooting as an accomplice the court ruled, because he was still in the store when the bullets started flying.
If someone travels in a car with a guy who has a gun, and said someone knows this, the court will call him for gun possession too – even though he may never have touched it. Knowing is enough.
In the Oro Diamanté case, Leon knew a couple of things: he was going to rob the jewelry store together with Damisse, and he knew that Damisse had a gun. That was impossible to overlook or to forget because Damisse used the weapon to threaten people in the store.
And since Damisse and Leon were in this together, we figure that all the consequences of their actions are not only for the account of the actual shooter, but also for the account of his partner in crime. If Leon had not come up with the plan for the robbery, Damisse would not have been in the situation where he shot Officer Benjamin
But no, the court ruled that Leon had no part in the shooting at all and therefore did not send him away for 25 years, as the prosecution demanded at the trial, but for just 8 years.
Grab your calculator again: 8 years is 96 months and Leon will have to serve 64 of them, assuming that he behaves in prison. That is 5 years and 4 months, of which he has already served approximately 9 months. If the verdict stands, Leon could therefore be a free man again after 4 years and 7 months – that’s around November 2020 when he will be 25 years of age.
All this does not feel right and the prosecutor’s office was lightning fast to file an appeal. Therefore, sometime after the summer the case will go back to trial, this time with three judges on the bench and hopefully – for all those who have been affected by this crime – a better outcome.