Judge sets unusual bail conditions for mentally unstable man

court matters
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By Elesha George

[email protected]

The absence of adequate mental health resources in Antigua and Barbuda has caused the High Court to release a man suspected of being mentally unstable into the care of his lawyer.

The 26-year-old man was kept in state custody — for his family’s protection — up until September 22nd,when High Court Judge Iain Morley said he had been “inadvertently released from prison”.

The man had been imprisoned after his grandmother testified earlier this year that he wasn’t well and needed psychiatric evaluation because he had displayed volatile behaviour and was showing signs of suffering from mental health issues.

Last Friday, the man’s mother tried to hold back tears as she told the court that the young man often gets frustrated because he struggles to learn how to read.

The distraught woman said she is trying her best to help her son and is encouraging him to stop smoking and to continue attending church with her. 

The accused had been in state custody for several months before he was released from Her Majesty’s Prison (HMP) in what the judge described as “a mistaken state of liberty”.

His lawyer, Pete-Semaj McKnight, explained that the magistrate had been unable to conclude whether the man had qualified to be imprisoned, pending proper paper work of a psychiatric evaluation.

An evaluation had not been conducted during the time he was incarcerated.

The 26 year old currently sleeps near the bus shed in the vicinity of the Public Market, where McKnight told the court he feels most comfortable.

“He looks a lot better outside than in jail,” the judge remarked, recalling his disheveled state months before.

On Friday, Justice Morley placed the man on $100,000 bail under very unusual conditions, including that he contacts his lawyer at least once every week.

The judge warned the man’s lawyer, who argued to have him remain on bail, that he now had to take up the responsibility of monitoring the accused and ensure that he is present for his court hearings and psychiatric evaluations.

In addition, the man must remain in daily contact with his mother, must be contactable through his mother, report to the St John’s Police Station every day, must live in the vicinity of the market, and he cannot travel.

The man was also warned not to interfere with witnesses involved in a 2018 sexual allegation made against him. He was also ordered to attend psychiatric evaluations and all court hearings without fail.

Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Griffin Benjamin has been consulted to assess the man’s mental condition via Skype from Dominica. A formal request has also been made for further evaluation when Dr Benjamin travels to Antigua, at which time the judge urged the man’s lawyer to seek an audience with him.

In the meantime, Justice Morley has requested that the man’s lawyer to submit a report from the doctor following the first evaluation exercise. Evaluations of his mental state will determine whether he is fit to plea in the sex case.

“These are unusual bail circumstances,” the judge remarked, warning the lawyer that if he could not ensure that the man undergoes psychiatric evaluation, the accused will have to return to state custody.

Before making his decision, the judge considered the difficulty with having to locate the man who had no official residence, no cell phone or other means of being contacted.

He also mulled the challenge and the ongoing delay with conducting psychiatric evaluations, amidst Covid-19 restrictions, and problems with paying the psychiatrist employed at the Clarevue Psychiatric Hospital.

The accused was initially charged in August 2018 for a sexual crime and was bailed in November 2019 after spending more than a year behind bars.

After his release his family said he became volatile and asked the court to place him back into state custody. However, last Friday his mother testified that he was doing better and had not had any repeat episodes since his release in September.

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