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Judge sentences killer to 35 years’ jail for ‘public execution’

Murdered: Ronniko Burchall (Photograph supplied)

A St George’s man was yesterday sentenced to spend at least 35 years behind bars for the 2018 fatal shooting of Ronniko Burchall.

Taaj Muhammad was given a life sentence for what prosecutors branded a “public execution” and ordered to serve at least 25 years before becoming eligible for parole.

Puisne Judge Juan Wolffe also ordered that a ten-year sentence for using a firearm to commit the murder should run consecutive to the tariff.

Mr Justice Wolffe said: “There is no way to overstate that this was a heinous crime committed at point-blank range.

“Equally disturbing is not only the effect the act has had on the deceased, but on the family members.”

The Supreme Court heard comments from Mr Burchall’s family, who said they were still heartbroken by the loss of the father of two.

His father, Rodney Burt, described the victim as a jokester who loved life, and that his death had crushed his family.

In an emotional statement read to the court, Oneika Burchall, Mr Burchall’s mother, also questioned why Muhammad decided to kill her son.

“You sat down with my family and told them that you did not do it,” she said.

“To see you walking in court with the same walk as in the video and smiling was a slap in the face.”

The court had heard earlier that Muhammad was identified as the gunman in CCTV footage which showed he had a limp.

Muhammad himself maintained his innocence.

“I just know I’m innocent,” he said. “I ain’t worrying about nothing these people have to say.”

The court heard earlier that Mr Burchall, 30, was shot in the head at close range as he left a Christmas party at St David’s County Cricket Club, just after 1.30am on December 29, 2018.

He was rushed to hospital but died of his injuries the next day.

A former girlfriend of Muhammad, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, told the court that Muhammad confessed that he had carried out the shooting months after the murder.

She said he had told her that he had later swum across St George’s Harbour and dropped the firearm in the ocean in the process.

The witness said she did not tell the police about the confession until July 2020 because she feared for her life.

She also identified Muhammad as the gunman in CCTV footage from the cricket club based on a distinctive “limp”.

The woman and a police officer said they were able to identify the defendant on CCTV footage taken inside the club hours before the shooting.

The person they identified as Muhammad was seen to leave the club about three minutes after the victim arrived.

The court also heard that a grey sweatshirt and a pair of jeans had been seized from the defendant’s grandmother’s home days after the shooting.

Tests later revealed a particle consistent with gunshot residue inside the sweatshirt’s pockets and a series of particles, which contained two of the three elements that make up GSR on both articles of clothing.

Charles Richardson, who represented Muhammad during the trial, said the story told by the witness was “stupid and crazy” and that everyone who identified Muhammad on CCTV footage had a vested interest in the case.

But a six-man, five-woman jury found Muhammad guilty by a unanimous verdict.

At this afternoon’s sentencing, prosecutors said there were no mitigating factors in Muhammad’s favour and noted that he had a history of violent offences with convictions for assault, violently resisting arrest, robbery and affray.

The Crown called for Muhammad to spend at least 25 years behind bars for the murder and said the sentence for the firearm offence should run consecutive to the murder sentence.

Mr Richardson said that an appeal against the conviction had already been launched, but agreed that the sentence proposed by prosecutors was in line with similar cases.

Delivering his sentence, Mr Justice Wolffe said the senseless murder had left Mr Burchall’s family devastated and contributed to a wave of gun violence that has rocked the community.

“I hope that the defendant has seen the effects of his conduct,” Mr Justice Wolffe added.

“I hope that this will be an inflection point for him, and if and when he is released from custody, that he will be someone that he and his family can be proud of, but most importantly, that he can show to the family of Mr Burchall that he is deeply regretful and remorseful for his actions.

“We are losing too many of our young men from the front of the gun, and from behind the gun. We have reached epidemic proportions.”

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