A Hamilton man remains in St. Lucia awaiting sentencing for his role in the drowning death of a four-year-old boy
CASTRIES, ST. LUCIA — Justice takes time in St. Lucia. If not today, then tomorrow. Or maybe next week.
Sahab Jamshidi, a 35-year-old Hamilton man and medical school graduate, is still waiting to be sentenced for gross negligence causing death for his role in the drowning death of a fouryear-old boy two years ago. Yesterday — two weeks after entering a guilty plea in the case — the Ancaster resident was to receive his sentence, only to have the formality put off until next week.
On Friday morning, Jamshidi arrived with his legal team at the Nyerah Courthouse in Castries, the High Court’s temporary location in the island’s bustling capital. His father and two friends were also there, having flown in from Canada for support. The lot of them, dressed in suits, chatted nervously on the concrete steps outside as they waited to be called to the single upstairs courtroom.
But in the end, the appearance was brief. Neither Jamshidi’s defence team nor the prosecution had written submissions prepared, and so the sentencing was adjourned until next week when they can be delivered.
And until then, Jamshidi’s bail conditions, ordering him to stay on the island, remain in effect.
TJ Elibox, 4, died in February 2015. He’d been at
Bois Shadon Beach in Vieux Fort, on the south side of the Caribbean island, with his maternal grandmother and her church group for a picnic. It was here — being babysat by a teenager while his grandmother cleaned fish — that he ended up in the choppy waters of the Atlantic Ocean. His small body washed ashore a few days later.
The church group alleged Jamshidi — who was also at the beach that day kitesurfing with friends for his birthday — had taken the child out for a ride and dropped him. But Jamshidi insisted he first spotted the boy from his board out in the water and called for help, even co-ordinating a search party on the beach.
He was arrested and charged.
A noted flaw in the case from the beginning was a lack of independent witnesses at the beach. The grandmother had been cleaning fish more than 30 metres away and admitted she did not see the small boy going into the water — escorted or not.
Royal St. Lucia Police officers acknowledged at the time of the investigation in the spring of 2015 they were relying on statements from members of TJ’s grandmother’s church alone, including the teenager who was babysitting him. Despite public pleas to tourists who might have seen something, no one came forward.
That summer, after several delays, Jamshidi was ordered in a sufficiency hearing to face trial. In the meantime, he was ordered to surrender his passport and stay on the island, as per his bail conditions.
Those proceedings were also delayed several times, including last summer, when the old courthouse was shut down because of mould. It is now closed for renovations.
Though the St. Lucian justice system is inherited from the British and mirrors Canada’s in many ways, it moves at its own pace. The right to a speedy trial is a difficult feat for an island with just two judges. Local activists and diplomats have long called for swifter access to justice.
The country is in a state of political transition, with a new prime minister sworn in last year. A new director of public prosecutions also took office last fall, noting tackling the backlogged High Court would be a priority for his department.
When Jamshidi’s trial finally began on Jan. 24, he suddenly changed his plea to “guilty” on just the second day. It is unknown what led him to change his plea, or whether a deal was reached with the prosecution.
Lawyers in the case have declined to comment.
Family friend Stephen Verbeek offered a brief statement Friday on behalf of Jamshidi and his family but declined to comment further until after sentencing.
“It’s been a long painful process for everyone involved,” Verbeek said. “We are doing our best to be respectful and considerate for all parties involved.”
TJ’s mother, Jowella Roserie, who was also in court Friday, declined to speak to the media, saying her lawyer had advised her to wait until after the sentencing. In a recent interview with local media, the young mother said she was upset with her mother (TJ’s grandmother) for not watching the small boy that day — and she believes she should share in the blame for his death, given that she had been responsible for him at the beach.
Royal St. Lucia Police deferred all questions about the case Friday to the Director of Public Prosecution’s office. He was not available to comment.
Jamshidi is expected to be back in court on Feb. 10.
It’s been a long painful process for everyone involved. FRIEND OF SAHAB JAMSHIDI STEPHEN VERBEEK
Sahab Jamshidi, who lives in Ancaster, has sentencing hearing Feb. 10.