Four men jailed for murder of 17 year old in East London

Dale Williams, 21, Lerone Boye, 25, Roger Damali, 31, and Hugo Nwankwo, 18, were found guilty of murder on 22 November 2012.

Kelvin Chibueze, aged 17, was stabbed at a birthday party held at the Arteflex Club in August 2011. He was then chased and attacked by youths using champagne and brandy bottles as weapons.

The BBC News report at the end of the trial is here.

It states that Kelvin was stabbed again once outside of the club. He suffered a fatal stab wound to the chest, in addition to stab wounds to the left forearm, left buttock and one of his palms. Police reportedly found four knives which had traces of Kelvin’s blood on them.

The Guardian reported that the death followed a clash between two groups of males.

Two other men were acquitted and a third was found guilty of violent disorder. He was given 2 years’ imprisonment, which allowed for his immediate release for the time he had spent in custody.

Sentence

Dale Williams, 21, was given a minimum term of 26 years, Lerone Boye, 26, was given 28 years, Roger Damali, 31, received 23 years and Hugo Nwankwo, 18, was given 16 years.

As usual, we do not have the sentencing remarks, and so we embark upon the process of tracing the steps walked by the Judge as to how he arrived at the sentences.

The Guardian: Judge John Bevan condemned the wall of silence which surrounded the case. He said: “The veil of silence which has fallen over the main participants in this case speaks volumes as to the cowardice and moral bankruptcy on both sides of the parties.

“Witness after witness refused to speak out and avenge the death of their 17-year-old friend.”

It is possible that the jury found that only one of the men actually stabbed Kelvin, and the others were guilty as they were also participants, through the principle of joint enterprise. (A factsheet on joint enterprise is available here) However, with reports that four knives were found with Kelvin’s blood on them, it seems a little unlikely that that was a) the way the Crown put their case and b) how the jury found the men guilty.

There is no information in relation to the individual roles of the defendants, but does that matter? We can make some assumptions as to the starting points and the general aggravating factors.

Williams, Boye and Damali would all have been over the age of 18 at the time of the murder. As this was a murder with a knife taken to the scene, the starting point for those three would therefore have been 25 years. For Nwankwo, the starting point would have been 12 years, as he was aged under 18 at the time of the murder. (An explanation of murder tariffs and starting points is available here.)

The aggravating factors would most likely have included the fact that the offence was committed in a public place, that there was a chase, and Kelvin was stabbed numerous times, and that the killers were operating in a gang. Further, it may have been that it was found that there was an intention to kill, by virtue of the wounds Kelvin suffered and the fact that he was stabbed in the chest. There may also have been a degree of premeditation/planning, which would have also resulted in an uplift in sentence.

Why then did the three over the age of 18 at the time of the murder receive different sentences? Well there are a number of reasons as to why this might have happened. They might have different previous convictions, they may have played different roles in the murder (for example supplying the weapons or instigating the chase). Further, the difference in ages between the three aged over 18 may also have resulted in a difference in tariff. For example, Williams (aged 21) received a shorter tariff than Boye (age 26). These aggravating factors can also explain why the 12 year starting point was increased to 16 years for Nwankwo.

Damali’s minimum term was reduced from the 25 year starting point. This may be due to his role and previous good character, however this is all speculation as there is very little information on which to base our assumptions.

Is the sentence too high or low? Well aside from one’s opinions on the general level of murder sentences and the anomaly between knife murders and murders committed with a hammer (25-year starting point compared to a 15-year starting point), it is rather difficult to say. In absence of further facts, all we can really say is that the tariffs are in the correct regions. Whether there will be an appeal against conviction or sentence remains to be seen.

But perhaps a more interesting point is that if lawyers can’t accurately fathom how a particular sentence was reached, and therefore whether the sentence is excessive or not, what chance do the public have? It appears there is a long way to go before the criminal law is intelligible by all…

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