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Judge calls for harsher penalties for domestic abuse

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Sordid picture of domestic violence: Kamal Worrell must serve at least 27 years of a life sentence for the murder of Chavelle Dillon-Burgess, who has been missing since April 30, 2020 (File photograph)

The judge who dealt Kamal Worrell a life sentence for the murder of Chavelle Dillon-Burgess said that the killing was the culmination of years of abuse.

In a sentencing decision published yesterday, Puisne Judge Juan Wolffe wrote that the trial painted a “sordid picture of domestic violence” and called for longer maximum tariffs for domestic abuse cases.

“The death of Chavelle was the culmination of years of psychological and physical abuse perpetrated by the defendant in which he, on at least two occasions, brought Chavelle to the brink of permanently losing her breath,” Mr Justice Wolffe said.

“To exacerbate matters, and as part of his seeming campaign of controlling the love which Chavelle had for him, the defendant manipulated her into withdrawing her 2018 and 2019 complaints.

“Sadly, had Chavelle not acceded to the defendant’s orchestrated shenanigans to absolve himself of any criminality she probably would be here with us today.”

The judge urged legislators to consider increasing sentencing tariffs for common assault cases above the existing limit of 12 months.

“Often in domestic abuse cases there are multiple incidents of assault which involve varying forces of pushing, shoving, grabbing and dragging but they often fall short of the person sustaining identifiable physical injuries,” Mr Justice Wolffe wrote. “Most assuredly they would have suffered grave psychological injury.

“It should be that where the prosecution are able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the common assaults inflicted by an accused person on their victim constituted a history of domestic violence then a sentence higher than 12 months could be meted out.

“Until such legislative changes are made then perpetrators of domestic violence will continue to victimise with impunity.”

Murder victim: Chavelle Dillon-Burgess has not been seen since April 30, 2020. The Royal Bermuda Regiment private and mother’s live-in boyfriend, lawyer Kamal Worrell, was convicted (File photograph)

During the trial, which stretched from last November to early January, the court heard that Ms Dillon-Burgess had accused Worrell of assault in relation to incidents in 2018 and 2019.

In both cases, she had said that arguments about their son had turned physical, but she later withdrew the allegations against him.

On April 30, 2020, Ms Dillon-Burgess was reported missing by her family, and despite an island-wide search, she has not been found.

Throughout the trial, Worrell maintained his innocence, claiming that he had never acted violently towards Ms Dillon-Burgess and had only ever acted to defend himself when she lashed out against him.

He told the court that Ms Dillon-Burgess had walked out of the home that they shared with their child after an argument on April 11, 2020, and she returned briefly days later only to collect personal items.

Prosecutors argued that Ms Dillon-Burgess had given consistent stories of assault when talking to her friends, family and doctor, and changed her story only when she was in court with the defendant in the room with her.

At the conclusion of the trial, the jury found Worrell guilty of the murder of Ms Dillon-Burgess along with seven counts of assault.

While Worrell has launched an appeal against his conviction, he was subsequently ordered to serve at least 27 years of a life sentence for the murder.

He was further sentenced to six months behind bars for the assault charges, with all of the sentences ordered to run concurrently.

Mr Justice Wolffe said in his written sentencing decision that the starting point for the murder sentence was a minimum of 24 years behind bars, but he increased that to 27 years because of the aggravating features, including the concealing and disposal of Ms Dillon-Burgess’s remains.

“Dealing with the mitigating features, there is only one. That is, the defendant’s lack of previous convictions,” he wrote.

“Without sounding blunt, there is not much more to say about this other than he will be given some, but not much, credit for this.

“For the avoidance of doubt, I comprehensively reject any argument that because the defendant was a criminal defence lawyer and may have successfully helped accused persons navigate through the criminal justice system that he should in some way be imbued with good character.

“In fact, it was probably because of his knowledge and experience as a defence lawyer that the defendant was able to manipulate Chavelle and induce her to withdraw the 2018 and 2019 charges against him.”

Mr Justice Wolffe said that Worrell had required prosecutors to call emotionally distraught witnesses to give evidence and repeatedly attempted to discredit them through “often unnecessary and ultimately futile cross examination”.

He added that based on their verdict, jurors accepted that Worrell had lied to them on a number of occasions, including his claims that he had never struck Ms Dillon-Burgess and that she was the aggressor.

“As an experienced defence attorney he was very conscious and deliberate in his attempts to sully Chavelle’s good name, protract the trial and to ultimately obfuscate the truth about what he did to Chavelle, not just in April 2020 but also in 2018 and 2019,” Mr Justice Wolffe said.

“In fact, it is obvious to me that the defendant’s choice to be unrepresented at trial was cunningly calculated because he well knew that as a litigant-in-person he would be afforded far more latitude by the court than that which would have been granted to a practising lawyer whose behaviour would have been strictly constrained by the Barristers’ Codes of Professional Conduct.

“Moreover, the defendant has not shown, and probably will never show, any modicum of genuine regret or remorse for killing Chavelle.”

Mr Justice Wolffe said that Worrell may not have expressed remorse because of his upcoming appeal, but he could have shown some remorse about his unhealthy relationship with Ms Dillon-Burgess in front of his son or not being forthright with police and her family.

Mr Justice Wolffe added that the jury must have accepted the prosecution’s case that a recording made by Worrell on April 11, 2020 captured him cleaning up forensic evidence of the crime.

“If this was not despicable enough the sounds of the defendant’s and Chavelle’s son crying in the background and with classical music playing leads one to wonder whether the defendant did all of this in the presence of his son,” he said.

“If so, this takes the defendant’s depravity to an even lower immoral level.

“This is of course compounded by the fact that the defendant somehow and somewhere disposed of Chavelle’s body, and as part of his diabolical plan he coldly watched members of the public sympathetically search for Chavelle’s body.”

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