From the Courts
July 22, 2022
Man who chopped his nine-year-old nephew to death diagnosed with mental illness, spared jail time

AYOUNG man, who has now been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, heard what he thought was the audible voice of God when he chopped his nine-year-old nephew to death two years ago.

Jamarie Phillips died from chop wounds to his head, neck and hands on May 29, 2020.

His uncle Tzan Phillips – a known soccer talent, a respected youth in the community – was the surprising perpetrator.

On the date in question, Tzan had been displaying bizarre behaviour throughout the day. He had walked about Richland Park brandishing a cutlass and proclaiming the blood of Jesus. The then-21-year-old also reportedly asked a woman whether she believed God would resurrect her if he killed her and then he ran at her. She managed to flee.

While in his state of mental affliction, Tzan walked into the path of a moving vehicle, and struck a rear view mirror.When the driver questioned him,Tzan responded by knocking him unconscious.

The young man confessed to a shopkeeper that he had killed Jamarie, telling the shopkeeper that he discussed the act with the boy before killing him and had received an answer in the affirmative. In response the shopkeeper tried to disarm Tzan.The two struggled but Tzan leapt off the roof of the shopkeeper’s house and escaped.

Tzan also spoke to another villager about the word of God and his becoming a pastor. He told that person that he had tried to commit suicide after killing his nephew in order to sacrifice his own life to get to heaven.

When the police tried to take him into custody, Tzan resisted them violently and ended up shot in his leg.

He was subsequently assessed by a psychiatrist who gave a diagnosis of bipolar disorder one. The medical professional found that Tzan had been symptomatic at the time of the killing.

He gave a statement to the police admitting that he killed his nephew and pleaded guilty at the High Court on April 26, 2022, to charges of manslaughter, wounding and damage to property.

During mitigation last Thursday, his lawyer Duane Daniel said that the evidence of the psychiatric report is that Tzan was suffering from a manic episode caused by the bipolar disorder.

The lawyer questioned whether the sentencing guidelines should be used in Tzan’s case as the recently formed guidelines do not yet cover cases similar to his client’s.

However, he argued that if the court did use the guidelines it should place the crime within the lowest level of seriousness.

“Because the evidence suggests that the intention of – and if we can even use the word intention given what was operative on his mind at the material time – is that he did not intend to kill, he did not intend to be reckless.”

At the time Tzan was “steeped in what must have been some fundamental religious belief and the psychiatric report speaks to the fact that he was having auditory hallucinations and that he was hearing the voice of God.”

Daniel also explained, “He, having heard the voice of God, and having honestly believed due to the auditory hallucinations that he was having at the time that he raised the dead, there was no intention at all to harm, and how do we ascribe intention when he is this psychotic state?”

The lawyer addressed the four pillars that a sentencing judge must strive for: retribution, deterrence, protection, and rehabilitation. He said the issue of punishment “is predicated on a person being aware of his actions.”

He questioned how you deter someone from doing something they did while not being in command of their faculties.

Daniel also noted that rehabilitation would mean that the person had engaged wilfully in criminal conduct.

The defence also submitted multiple legal statements from members of the community who spoke glowingly of Tzan.

On Friday, July 15, Justice Brian Cottle sentenced Tzan.

The judge noted that the sentencing guidelines of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court(ECSC) ought to be used by judges unless to do so would result in an injustice.

“This is a very unusual case. I will do my best to follow the guidelines but I must make adjustments as this case demands,” he said.

Cottle said that the intention is a very important consideration when assessing the degree of seriousness of the offence.

“The difficulty in this case is that the diminished mental capacity of the offender by reason of his mental disorder at the time of the offence does not seem to be contemplated in the (sentencing) guidelines,” he noted.

The judge ultimately decided that the lowest level of seriousness was applicable.

“I think it is quite difficult to speak about forming an intention to cause any harm in circumstances where the mind of the offender is so affected by his mental condition,” he explained.

“At the time of the offence he(Tzan) was experiencing auditory hallucinations. His thinking, as I’ve said, was delusional and disorganized. He could hear the voice of God in his head telling him he could raise people from the dead,” the judge revised, “He pondered killing himself or another to test his powers of resurrection. He discussed the matter with his young nephew before deciding to kill him.”

Cottle started the sentence at six years in prison, and was persuaded in this by United Kingdom guidelines on manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility.

The judge then went on to consider the aggravating and mitigating factors.

Notably, “Since (Tzan’s) diagnosis and treatment they do not view him as a threat to their community. His own family, his family members have all rallied around him to support him as he continues to be treated for his disorder.”

The six year sentence was sliced by 18 months, and further reduced by three years because of the guilty plea.

Tzan spent eight months and four days in custody. This was also subtracted and the court was left with a final sentence of two years, three months and 26 days imprisonment.

Further, he was sentenced to five months and 26 days for wounding and to pay $450 for damage to property.

The Justice suspended the prison sentences for two years on condition that Tzan continues to comply with his prescribed medical treatment. Cottle indicated that it is clear that in this unique case, punishment would not serve to deter.

“As for the need for rehabilitation, I can do no better than to quote from a character witness Brandon Charles, who grew up with the prisoner when he said ‘to even ask about rehabilitation would mean that he has bad qualities’.”

“This is a young man who, when he was mentally unwell killed his beloved nephew. He is now keenly aware of his actions now that he has responded well to medical treatment he has received.,” the judge said.

He noted that although Tzan’s sense of remorse led him to plead guilty, it is possible that he may have been absolved of guilt during a trial.

After delivering the sentence, the judge spoke to the 24-year-old advising him to continue with his medical treatments.

“There are things which have happened which cannot be undone and there are things which you will have to live with and I can’t imagine how difficult that must be. It’s all been a very tragic thing and I don’t think that I should do anything to increase the level of suffering that the family must be going through.”