Thu | Oct 6, 2022

Barnett's bloody betrayal

Prosecutors want mass murderer behind bars for decades

Published:Friday | September 23, 2022 | 12:08 AMLivern Barrett/Senior Staff Reporter
Rushane Barnett, the mass murderer of Cocoa Piece.
Rushane Barnett, the mass murderer of Cocoa Piece.

Nearly a year ago, Rushane Barnett and his brother were unemployed and in a financial bind when they telephoned their aunt, Gwendolyn McKnight, for help.

The brothers wanted to move to Clarendon, where McKnight and her family lived, to find jobs because “nothing was happening for them” in their community of Wilson Run, Trelawny, the elderly woman recounted.

The request initially aroused her suspicion.

McKnight called her sister, Janet, and asked “about five times” if Barnett and his brother “did anything up there” in Trelawny and whether that was the reason they wanted to relocate to Clarendon.

“She said no, a work dem want,” the elderly woman recounted.

McKnight said she took her sister’s word and moved Barnett and his brother into her Clarendon home and helped them to find employment.

Barnett, now 23, quickly bonded with his cousin, Kemisha Wright, more popularly known as ‘Chunny’, and her four children.

“Whenever he was not working, he would stay with Kemisha and the kids,’’ McKnight recalled.

“Rushane lost his job ... and Chunny, realising that he was there and needed money, would ask persons around the community to assist him to get a job so he could buy what he wanted.”

But a year later, her generosity had become the source of her greatest pain, the elderly woman revealed in a riveting victim impact statement read out in the Home Circuit Court in Kingston on Thursday.

Her statement came while Barnett waited to hear his punishment for slaughtering McKnight’s eldest daughter, Kemisha Wright, and four grandchildren in Cocoa Piece, Clarendon, in one of the most savage killings in Jamaican history.

“To see that she died in such a violent and cruel manner committed by a family member I took in to help was the last thing I expected to happen,” the elderly woman said in the statement read by the court clerk.

“I do not know when and how I will recover. A part of me died with them. Since her [Kemisha’s] death, I can hardly sleep at night. I am constantly having nightmares, which cause me to cry daily.”

STILL STRUGGLING

Kishawn Henry, Wright’s comman-law partner and the father of the youngest victim, said he is still struggling to accept that his family is gone.

“When they were alive, I would transfer money to Kemisha’s account, and she would buy stuff for the house and take care of the children,” he said in his victim impact statement, also read by a court clerk.

“I need my family. I am hurting and a broken man,” he added, while praising the army for the support he has received.

A post-mortem examination revealed that Wright received “48 incise wounds all in the region of the neck, chest, and abdomen,” chief prosecutor Paula Llewellyn disclosed in court.

“Cause of death was due to haemorrhage and shock and multiple sharp-force injuries,” said Llewellyn, the director of public prosecutions (DPP), citing the post-mortem report.

Wright’s 23-month-old son, Keshawn Henry - the youngest victim - had 11 incise wounds, including one to the neck described as a cut-throat injury, according to the report.

His sisters, Kimanda Smith, 15; Shara-Lee Smith, 12; and Rafaella Smith, five, had nine, 22, and five incise wounds, respectively.

Shara-Lee and Rafaella also had “cut-throat” injuries.

Barnett’s actions reminded Llewellyn of a well-known Jamaican phrase, she disclosed.

“The expression ‘sorry fi mawga dog and they turn around and bite you’ comes to mind,” she said before recommending a starting point of 60 years and nine months for the mass killer’s parole eligibility period, along with the mandatory life in prison for each count of murder.

A psychiatrist who conducted a “lengthy” interview with Barnett made a number of unflattering findings about the confessed killer.

As an example, the psychiatrist’s report indicated the presence of “superficial charm, glibness, and this refers to a tendency to be smooth, engaging, charming, slick … deceitfulness; the quality of being disingenuous”.

“Lacking remorse and the absence of a sense of deep regret. Lacking empathy … does accept responsibility, failure to accept responsibility for his actions,” Llewellyn added, urging Justice Leighton Pusey not to give Barnett the possible 33 1/3 per cent discount on sentence.

The forensic psychiatrist said, too, that Barnett indicated that “voices in his head” told him to carry out the killings.

“He has no prior reported history of psycho-pathology but claims he has been hearing voices since age 18,” the report said.

“Based on Rushane Barnett’s report and history, he was not influenced by an abnormality of the mind at the time of the alleged offence,” the report said.

Llewellyn also announced that her office would no longer seek the death penalty for Barnett.

“In light of the fact of his early guilty plea, the Crown is obliged to remove the death penalty as an option. This is a matter of law,” she explained.

But Barnett’s attorney Tamika Harris, urged Pusey to reject Llewellyn’s recommendations and reward her client for his early guilty plea.

She insisted, too, that by entering an early guilty plea, Barnett was showing that he was remorseful.

“We are saying to others, what is the point? Why should I [plead guilty],” Harris argued in her submissions.

Barnett is scheduled to be sentenced on October 20.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com