Former Police Constable Dave Burnett, who was convicted of shooting to death a patron at a Chaguaramas fete seven years ago, was sentenced yesterday to 15 years jail with hard labour. Last Monday marked five years since Burnett, 39, of St Babb's, Belmont, was convicted of the murder of 18-year-old Kevin Cato and sentenced to death. When he appeared before the Court of Appeal yesterday, his conviction for murder was substituted with manslaughter. Although he was removed from Death Row with the judgment of the court, he was evidently displeased with the new sentence.
He shook his head when the sentence was passed and was overheard saying he wanted a "fresh trial."
He was represented at the appellate court by attorneys Israel Khan, SC, and Ulric Skerritt. Dana Seetahal, SC, and Leanna Seetahal appeared for the state. Chief Justice Ivor Archie, who led the panel, also comprising Justices Alice Yorke-Soo Hon and Rajendra Narine, said while the facts suggested Burnett was slapped first, he needed to exercise "some restraint." According to Archie, the appellant instead allowed the situation to escalate after he was pushed. The Chief Justice noted partygoers must expect to accidentally get their feet "mashed" and "bumped."
He said, however, there must be a higher threshold of tolerance from police officers. Khan submitted the justice of the case meant a ten-year prison term for the former cop. But Seetahal (Dana) contended guidance from the judiciary's sentencing handbook dictated a sentence of between 15 and 20 years. Burnett, who had served 13 unblemished years in the Police Service, was convicted on March 21, 2006.
Cato, of Chin Chin Road, Cunupia, was shot dead on January 24, 2004 by Burnett at the Outrageous in Red fete at Pier 1, Chaguaramas.
He was on undercover duty at the fete when he whipped out his firearm and shot Cato during a confrontation. Witnesses testified Burnett bragged, "Yeah, I is police. I is police," after pulling the trigger.
Burnett, who was assigned to the Western Division at the time of the incident, had been incarcerated since July 2005.
On June 9, 2004, PC Dave Burnett was committed to stand trial for killing Cato. Retired Chief Magistrate Sherman McNicolls had dismissed the charge of murder and ordered a new trial for manslaughter.
But after reviewing the evidence in the case over one year later, then Director of Public Prosecutions Geoffrey Henderson indicted Burnett for the murder in July, 2005. Burnett was convicted of the Cato's murder on March 21, 2006. He petitioned to the Judicial Committee of the London Privy Council and on November 4, 2009, the matter was remitted to the Court of Appeal for determination. The council ruled that both trial judge Ian Brooks and the Court of Appeal had erred by not putting the issue of provocation to the jury.