Sat | Jun 25, 2022

COLD CASE ANGERS DAD

Child Month revives criticism of police in 2018 rape, murder of teen

Published:Monday | May 2, 2022 | 12:09 AMDavid Salmon/Gleaner Writer
Deandre Simpson lays a wreath at the Secret Gardens monument at the intersection of Tower and Church streets in downtown Kingston on Sunday, the first day of Child Month. Also in photo are Reajean Bennett (centre) and Karlene Lee. The monument memorialises
Deandre Simpson lays a wreath at the Secret Gardens monument at the intersection of Tower and Church streets in downtown Kingston on Sunday, the first day of Child Month. Also in photo are Reajean Bennett (centre) and Karlene Lee. The monument memorialises children who have died tragically.
Lionel Francis, father of Yetanya Francis who was murdered in 2018, lays wreath at the Secret Gardens monument in Kingston on Sunday.
Lionel Francis, father of Yetanya Francis who was murdered in 2018, lays wreath at the Secret Gardens monument in Kingston on Sunday.
Yetanya Francis
Yetanya Francis
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Jamaica’s capacity to nab and prosecute the perpetrators of criminal violence against children has been questioned by a grieving father, who said the family has been in the dark over the rape and murder of his 14-year-old daughter almost four years ago.

Lionel Francis has been a shadow of himself since the gruesome death of Yetanya Francis in Arnett Gardens, south St Andrew, on August 23, 2018.

The enduring trauma from that day has continued to haunt the family, worsened by the information blackout from the police force, which has not advised them of any progress of the investigations.

It’s emblematic of the crisis of cold cases that continue to dog the constabulary.

“Day by day, we have been trying to pull ourselves as best as possible. It is always fresh. Anytime anyone mentions the name, especially when family gets together, it is always fresh in memory. Sometimes, for that reason, we try to stay as far as possible just because of that,” Lionel said during a Gleaner interview on Sunday.

Francis continues to relive the experience every time Yetanya’s name is mentioned.

Yet, almost four years later, he is no closer to finding closure, as the case surrounding his daughter appears to have stalled, the father said.

During a wreath-laying ceremony at the Secret Gardens monument in Kingston, Francis expressed his frustration with the slow pace of the investigations.

“I have not had communication with, especially in the past year or so. I have not heard anything from the police, and no one has given me any thought. About a year and a half ago, I had two officers come to my place, and, from what I heard, the investigation was ongoing but, up until that time, they have not gotten any leads,” Lionel said.

Calls to Deputy Commissioner of Police Fitz Bailey, who heads the crime portfolio, went unanswered on Sunday.

Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Desmond McKenzie, who was also present to lay a wreath at the monument, said he could not imagine that the incidence of violence against children would have been as prevalent as when the Secret Gardens structure was erected.

“When I launched this project in November 2008, along with Prime Minister Bruce Golding, we did not anticipate that more than 1,000 young people’s names would have been listed at this location, and there is still a vast number of young people’s names that have not been added,” he said.

Another section of the monument will be constructed in the coming months to add the remaining names of deceased children. McKenzie emphasised that violence against the young was unconscionable.

“I don’t know how much policing or how many laws you can put on the books. As far as I am concerned, crimes against children should be treated differently, and those who murder our children should get the capital punishment and death,” McKenzie, who is also member of parliament for Kingston Western, said Sunday.

That pronouncement is likely to spark resistance from death-penalty opponents, who point out that the Pratt and Morgan ruling from the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, Jamaica’s final appellate court, has effectively abolished capital punishment, although it remains on the law books.

The last hanging took place in Jamaica in 1988.

But McKenzie was at the ready for detractors.

“There are persons who are saying that it is a backward step to talk about hanging, but the price that these criminals are paying and careless parents for brutal assault, we are not seeing anyone paying the price that they ought to pay,” he said.

Mayor of Kingston Delroy Williams shared similar sentiments.

“The issue of murdering children and violence against children is really a very serious issue. I believe that I would concur with Minister McKenzie with respect to looking at the issue seriously in terms of the legal framework,” said Williams.

Rosalee Gage-Grey, chief executive officer of the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA), revealed that reported cases to her office have returned to pre-pandemic levels.

“We are back up to over 1,000 cases per month. We are still concerned about the vicious violence that is being perpetuated against our children,” she said.

Gage-Gray shared that the most common cases seen by the CPFSA include neglect, physical abuse, and sexual abuse. There has also been increasing concern about mental-health and psychosocial issues which have arisen from violence-induced trauma.

For Child Month, the CPFSA is placing additional focus on preventative measures, including community intervention, for hotspot parishes such as Kingston, St Andrew, St Catherine, and Clarendon. An uptick in cases was also noted in St Ann, St Mary, and the western parishes of St James, Hanover, and Westmoreland.

david.salmon@gleanerjm.com