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Man jailed 15 years for death of prison officer

Daemon Bell (File photograph)

A man who killed an off-duty corrections officer with a gardening hoe has been jailed for 15 years.

Ajamu Hollis, 48, appeared for sentencing yesterday in the Supreme Court, as loved ones of his victim, Daemon Bell, looked on.

Several victim impact statements were read to the court, including one from Mr Bell’s foster child, who cannot be named for legal reasons, and his wife.

She wrote in her statement: “He never said ‘I’m leaving’. He never said goodbye. When I found out he was gone, I thought it was a joke.”

She said that, during their last interaction, Mr Bell promised to take her home later that day.

However, she said that now, “I wake up daily in a home that isn’t mine”.

She added: “Home isn’t just a place — it’s the people in that place that make it home.

“There are some days I feel worthless, some days I feel OK, then there’s other days I feel nothing.

“Nothing, because losing home makes you homeless.”

Hollis pleaded guilty to manslaughter on February 23 this year as he neared the end of a murder trial that lasted almost three weeks.

He denied murder but admitted the lesser count before the jury went out for deliberation.

During the trial, the court heard that Mr Bell died after Hollis struck him in the face with a gardening hoe during an incident at Shelly Bay Field on February 2, 2022.

Trial witnesses explained that an argument over cricket erupted between Hollis and Mr Bell’s family, which prompted Hollis to leave on his motorcycle.

He then returned with a gardening hoe, which he used to strike Mr Bell before scuffling with Mr Bell’s family. Hollis was arrested later that afternoon.

The court heard that six victim impact statements were submitted by Mr Bell’s family, friends and colleagues.

His wife, Shawnette, called the day of the incident one she would “never forget”.

She said in her statement that she talked to Mr Bell throughout the day, which was normal for the pair. But she later got a call from her brother saying that she needed to get to the hospital because her husband had been hit with a hoe.

Mrs Bell wrote that “nothing could have prepared me for what I would see” when she arrived.

She said: “There was blood everywhere. Daemon could hardly talk. He was bleeding profusely from his nose and they had to keep changing his bandages.

“I stayed with him for a little while but I couldn’t bear to see his face like that.”

Mrs Bell stayed with her husband until about 1.30am when he convinced her to go home. The doctors later told her to prepare clean clothes for her husband’s discharge.

She said her last words to him were, “I love you. See you later”.

Mrs Bell said that she was called to the hospital at around 6.45am and told that her husband had succumbed to his injuries.

She wrote: “I felt numb for a moment. Then I screamed, cried, and screamed some more.

“I remember going into Daemon’s room to see him one final time.

“I gave him a last kiss on his forehead and I told him again that I loved him.”

Mrs Bell said that life had been an “uphill battle” since her husband died.

She wrote that she missed their daily phone calls and hugs, as well as their frequent trips to the United States.

Mrs Bell added that the two would have celebrated their tenth wedding anniversary and Mr Bell’s 50th birthday the year that he died.

She said: “Life over the past two years has been very lonely due to an unconscionable act of violence that did not have to happen — something that could have been avoided.”

Keeva Joell-Benjamin, the Commissioner of Corrections, who oversaw Mr Bell at his job, wrote in her statement that Mr Bell had served the department for 21 years.

She said that he had become a dependable and encouraging member of his team who regularly scheduled bonding events outside of work.

The commissioner added: “He had a positive spirit and his dedication, kindness and professionalism was widely recognised by both his peers and those who supervised him.

“His absence has left a noticeable void within our department.

“Officer Bell not only had an impact on his colleagues but those under his supervision as well.”

The commissioner said that it was difficult for the department’s senior team to witness the “immense grief” of his colleagues, which lasted even to this day.

She commended the corrections team for their professionalism while monitoring Hollis, who had been on remand after admitting to Mr Bell’s manslaughter.

The court heard that Hollis had several previous convictions that included committing grievous bodily harm and theft.

He previously admitted to having drug and alcohol problems and that, while he had been sober for some time, he had relapsed that day and had two “big gulps” of alcohol.

Hollis apologised to the family for his actions and acknowledged that Mr Bell “did not deserve this”.

However, Puisne Judge Juan Wolffe called the apology “tepid at best” and reminded Hollis that, had he not returned to the scene, “Mr Bell would still be here”.

Mr Justice Wolffe ordered Hollis to complete three years of probation after his release, which would include abstaining from drugs and alcohol and taking part in counselling services.

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