-victim’s parents express their ‘hurt’ in impact statements
SIX years after the body of a British teen was found in a shallow grave at Kildonan Village, Corentyne, Berbice, his killer, Staymon George called “Sherwin,” was, on Wednesday, sentenced to life imprisonment, with the possibility of parole after serving 35 years.
The sentence was handed down by Justice Sandil Kissoon at the Berbice High Court. Earlier this month, George had pleaded guilty to the murder charge which read that he killed Dominic Bernard on October 14, 2015, at Kildonan Village.
The indictment was presented by special prosecutor, attorney-at-law Latchmie Rahamat.
During the sentencing hearing, Rahamat called on the teen’s mother, Linda Bernard, to read a victim impact statement, via zoom, from the United Kingdom.
Amidst tears, she detailed the life of Dominic, who the family called “Dom.” According to her “Dom was a typical boy who enjoyed family, school and friendships. He was mischievous, funny and a lot of work at times too. We had a real mother and son bond and thrived on routine.”
The woman recounted the last time she hugged her son, not knowing that that would have been the last time she would see him alive.
“When Dominic was going to Guyana to visit… he was excited and excited about an adventure he’d share with his godbrother [Aaron Hing]. Both myself and Dom’s dad took him to the airport. I hugged him and told him how proud I was. Most preciously of all I told him I loved him and we watched him go through immigration full of life and excitement. It was a beautiful send off. I can’t convey how very proud we were as we walked back to our car. It was our final goodbye but we didn’t know that. It was beautiful. It was perfect. Funny as both myself and Dom’s dad had tears in our eyes and both thought how silly we were for being emotional as Dom was beginning to realise his dreams. We were proud of the young man he had become and we very much wanted him to achieve each of his dreams for the future,” the woman added.
At this point, the grieving mother had tears rolling down her cheeks. She said: “We didn’t get the call from Dominic expecting to pick him up at the airport. Minutes, hours and days grew longer and unimaginable. There was no news. Christmas came and went. We set a place for Dom at the table and had presents under the tree for him when he returned. Dom’s 19th birthday came and still no news. We were frantic with worry night and day. Then the news we never ever imagined.”
The “news” she was referring to was that Dominic was murdered and buried in a shallow grave.
Did he know he was in danger? Was he scared? How much did he suffer? Did he call out for his mum? These are the questions Linda said she would constantly ask herself since she felt like she had failed him as a mother.
The woman spoke of how the tragedy had broken her family and destroyed the life they had together.
“The loss of our son in such a violent way has impacted us. Grief brings you together or it can tear you apart. It impacted us greatly and we have since divorced after 24 years of marriage. Our family home of 22 years has been sold. That is just a little of the impact of what appears to be the premeditated murder of Dominic. My girls have lost their brother, the family home they have known and us all living together. The security and all that represents has been altered,” she said.
Linda said that following the death of her son, she was diagnosed with depression, post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, insomnia and had overdosed twice.
“I am very anxious in crowds and with sudden loud noises. My mental health is being managed slowly. I find it near impossible to recall memories of my son. As hard as I try, I cannot recall memories of raising Dominic; they have been wiped away and yet I was there every step of the way. My memory has been robbed and erased with trauma. This is distressing to me. I do not trust. I have a guard up constantly. I do not let anyone in and I struggle to build new relationships,” she said.
While dealing with the “heartache” and “guilt” from her son’s death, Linda said she still blamed herself for his death.
“Guilt is continual…I should have known and sensed the danger Dominic was facing. I did not protect him. Did he call out for his mum in his distress and pain in his last moments and if he did, I was not there. The instinct of a mother is to protect her children. I could not protect Dominic. I cannot convey how traumatised I am to know how Dom’s life ended and how he suffered,” she said.
After the divorce, Linda and her ex-husband Andrew sold their family house and she moved from the area because it was “painful” to stay in the neighborhood.
“I am truly grateful for the 18 years I was able to share with my son, Dominic. I am grateful to God for giving him to us. Our children are a gift and we are here to guide and equip them into navigating their adult lives. I saw Dominic begin to spread his wings and I am reading this as the very proud mum of Dominic. We gave him his name because it’s meaning is ‘given by the Lord’ and he was given to us to love and care for 18 short years and now he rests with his Heavenly Father,” Linda said.
Meanwhile, Dominic’s father, Andrew, pleaded with Justice Kissoon to apply the maximum sentencing for George.
“My son’s death has left many family and friends traumatised and grieving. Their lives will never be the same again. The ripple effects from his horrific and depraved murder will continue to haunt us for the rest of our lives…I am forever tormented for allowing him to board that plane on that fatal day of 14th October, 2015. My mind continues to play over and over what his last thoughts must have been when he realised what was happening to him and the betrayal at the hands of people he trusted. The screams he made to try to get help and then how they silenced those cries for help by forcing a sock in his mouth as they continued to rain down blows on his head,” the man said in his address to the court.
George later apologised to the victim’s family, and begged for a second chance to turn his life around.
Justice Kissoon, while delivering his sentencing remarks, described the victim’s death as “heinous, diabolical, calculated, cold-blooded, inhumane and brutal.”
According to the judge, no human should suffer a death like what Dominic Bernard had to endure, especially being murdered by persons he trusted.
While recounting the facts of the case, the judge turned to George and said “Yourself and others retrieved the weapons concealed by the shallow grave including a hammer and began to beat Dominic Bernard attacking only the most vulnerable parts of his body… his neck, his head, severing his spinal column, inflicting multiple fractures to his skull, and then inserting a sock into his mouth to prevent his cries for help from being heard.”
The judge also highlighted the ripple effect the teen’s murder had on his family since it had invoked “havoc, destruction, and illness” onto them.
Justice Kissoon, in arriving at an appropriate sentence, considered the gravity of the injuries inflicted, the degree of premeditation and that the killing was a crime for financial gain.
According to Justice Kissoon, he did not consider the mitigating factors presented by George’s attorney, Ravindra Mohabir, since the aggravating factors of the crime are more and his actions deserve a penalty that is severe, not only to serve as a deterrent, but in light of the brutality that was meted out to a vulnerable teenager.
As such, the Judge sentenced George to life imprisonment, 35 of which he must spend behind bars before he could be eligible for parole.
Initially, George was charged jointly with Aaron Hing, Bernard’s godbrother. Hing had pleaded not guilty for the crime and is currently on trial before Justice Kissoon.
Meanwhile, Hing’s ‘childmother’, Krystol Thomas, her mother Sinfine Henry, also known as “Coreen”, and his friend, Jahmil Sinclair, are currently out on $300,000 bail after each was charged as an accessory in relation to Bernard’s murder. They are expected to stand trial soon.
The teenager reportedly arrived in Guyana on the evening of October 14, 2015. George, who is said to be a close friend of Hing, was the driver who transported Hing to the airport to collect Bernard. The teen was scheduled to fly back to England on November 5, 2015.
After collecting the teen from the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, they stopped at a location on Sheriff Street where they ate and drank a few beers. Bernard was never seen again. His parents came to Guyana, after he failed to arrive in England.
On January 8, 2016, the badly decomposed body of the teen was found in a shallow grave in the backlands of Nurney Village. A DNA sample taken from the body was tested against Dominic’s father, and they matched.
The police later issued an arrest warrant for Hing and George after they disappeared when investigators attempted to contact them.
Hing was arrested while hiding out at a city hotel while George was nabbed at a house in Tucville, Georgetown. It is alleged that those charged with accessory hid Bernard’s personal belongings, including his camera.
George had told police that Hing took Bernard to Kildonan Village, where a hole had already been dug. While there, Hing reportedly struck Bernard with a piece of wood which caused him to fall to the ground. While on the ground, Hing allegedly armed himself with a hammer and continued his assault on the teen.
George told the police that he helped Hing bury Bernard’s body in the hole. According to him, Hing killed Bernard for “payback” because he (Hing) was arrested in England due to the teen “snitching.”