Barbados sentence ‘unduly lenient’
Appeal launched after Schwarzfeld’s killer gets 10 years
The top prosecutor in Barbados is appealing the 10year sentence meted out this week to an island man who killed Ottawa tourist Terry Schwarzfeld a year ago.
Charles Leacock, the country’s director of public prosecutions, filed written notice with the island nation’s Court of Appeal Wednesday.
According to the Bajan newspaper The Nation, the document describes the 10-year sentence given to Schwarzfeld’s killer, Curtis Joel Foster, as “unduly lenient in the circumstances.”
As well, it adds, “ the sentence does not reflect the gravity of the offence.” Nor does it “ reflect the public’s concern about offences of this nature.” No date has been set for the appeal.
In the first public comment by a family member, Joan Schwarzfeld, the 60-year-old victim’s sister, said Thursday the sentence “ made no sense.”
Though the court heard about Foster’s difficult childhood and diagnosis of attention deficit behaviour disorder, Justice Randall Worrell basically dismissed those as mitigating factors, Schwarzfeld pointed out.
Yet the sentence the judge imposed was significantly shorter than the 16 to 20 years sought by prosecutors, she said.
Schwarzfeld hasn’t spoken with her sister’s widower, Stephen Cotsman, who is driving back to Ottawa from Florida. But other family members are also dissatisfied, she said. “ Everyone I’ve talked to has not been particularly pleased with the sentence.”
Still, while a stiffer sentence might help protect others, it won’t undo what happened to her sister, Schwarzfeld noted. “I think it’s better that (Foster) gets a longer term, but you know what? It doesn’t change anything, really.”
Foster, a 25-year-old with eight previous criminal convictions, attacked Terry Schwarzfeld and her daughter-in-law, Luana Cotsman, in broad daylight as they walked on the island’s Long Beach Feb. 28, 2009.
Using a piece of wood the size of a baseball bat, he struck Schwarzfeld on the back of the head, fracturing her skull.
Schwarzfeld, a prominent member of Ottawa’s Jewish community, never regained consciousness. She died March 18, 2009 in an Ottawa hospital.
Foster also struck Cotsman on the arm and head with the bludgeon, knocking her out. It took her months to recover from her physical injuries and she still has psychological scars.
Foster was originally charged with murder, but prosecutors ac- cepted his plea of guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter because they weren’t convinced a jury would find, on the evidence, that he meant to kill Schwarzfeld.
Adrian Loveridge, who chairs the safety and security committee of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association, said tourism operators on the island welcome the appeal.
“A lot of us in tourism feel that it is not a sufficient sentence,” he said, adding that “outrage would not be too strong a word” to describe the prevailing view.
Loveridge, who runs a small hotel about a kilometre from where Schwarzfeld was attacked, said such violent crimes are rare in Barbados. “But when they do happen, we have to be seen to be taking every necessary step to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”
Many Bajans appear to agree that Foster’s sentence was inappropriate.
Most of those posting comments to The Nation’s website denounced the sentence, describing it as “ a joke,” “ an outrage,” “ ridiculous,” “absurd” and “a travesty of justice.” Some called for Foster to receive a life sentence, or even a death sentence, for his crime.
Several warned that the sentence could damage Barbados’ lucrative tourism industry, the backbone of the economy.
“Tourists have to know that they are safe when they come here,” one Bajan wrote. “ If not, this place would be like Mexico.”
But Dale Marshall, who was attorney general in a previous Barbados government, told The Nation earlier this week that Foster’s sentencing should have no impact on tourism from Canada.
“The country has had incidents like this before,” Marshall said, “and our tourism product has withstood them.”