Wife killer gets suspended sentence, her life was worth K10,000

On August the 28th last year young mother Rayleen Tona was subjected to a horrendous beating by her husband Steven Gabriel. Neighbours heard Tona’s screams, as Gabriel battered the 28 year old.

She was left lying on the floor, dying. Gabriel’s assault was so bad it ruptured Rayleen Tona’s spleen. She passed away, alone several hours later from blood loss.

What sentence does an offence of this gravity warrant, at a time when the nation grapples with a domestic violence epidemic. Fifteen years in prison, ten, five?

Other than time already spent on remand,  Steven Gabriel will not serve a minute in prison.

Justice Lawrence Kangwia saw fit to suspend Gabriel’s proposed 10 year custodial sentence in its entirety. When justifying this baffling decision Justice Kangwia drew attention to a ‘special mitigating factor’. He noted ‘cash and food items valued at K10,000’ was paid in compensation to the victim’s relatives. K10,000, it appears, is the value of a young woman’s life.

It is difficult to characterise this decision as anything other than a grave miscarriage of justice. This is not editorial hyperbole. On the face of the facts presented in his decision, Justice Kangwia has fundamentally violated critical sentencing principles that lie at the heart of the criminal justice system.

First and foremost is the principle of just deserts (retribution). A sentence, from this vantage point, is a device the Court employs on behalf of the nation to communicate our collective social disapproval of the wrongdoing. The sanction applied must be commensurate in scope with the seriousness of the wrongdoing.

Furthermore, when there is a particularly horrific and widespread crime, the Courts have a duty to add an additional sanction in order to deter future offenders. This is known as the principle of deterrence.

The third major principle of justice which this sentence violates is ordinal proportionality. Ordinal proportionality is a sentencing concept which demands that similar crimes receive a similar sentence. From a survey of recent manslaughter cases, not one other Judge sort fit to suspend the sentence in its entirety.

Compare for instance Steven Gabriel’s sentence with the sentence given to Marie Dominic, who also committed manslaughter.

On the 24th of October 2020 Ms Dominic ‘was sitting down minding her own business’ when her husband picked up two large stones to beat her. Witnesses alerted Dominic to the impending danger, she pulled out a knife and stabbed her husband, which turned out to be a fatal blow.

Dominic pleaded guilty to manslaughter, and expressed remorse for her actions. The court noted she was a first time offender, was of good character, and it was added ‘she was only trying to defend herself from her husband’s attacks’. In contrast to Steven Gabriel, Marie Dominic was given 13 years imprisonment with hard labour.

It is difficult to understand how there is any ordinal proportionality between Marie Dominic serving 13 years of hard labour in prison, and Steven Gabriel walking out the Court’s front door, a free man.

If this inexplicable decision by Justice Kangwia is allowed to stand, the life of women will be cheapened in a way that would be an anathema to the vast majority of people here or indeed anywhere today.