“Can you believe that judge? He ruled a man was ‘provoked’ to kill a woman after an argument over the phone, pronouncing that any ‘reasonable man’ would have done the same. Men in this country are steeped in misogyny, use women for sex and cash, and blame and kill them when they don’t get their way. I didn’t even see her face. But my heart hurts for her, her children and all those she loved.”
That text came from my girlfriend “Alicia” from South, who has an injunction out from a man who drank and beat her senseless. She escaped and texted from a safe space.
We followed this case of the ‘provoked’ killing closely.
On September 8, 2006, a San Juan Handyman (Clint Sylvan) drinking in a bar in Tobago took a call from his girlfriend, Janet Davis, whose house he was living in rent-free.
Two days before he murdered Janet (a 44-year-old mother of four), co-workers heard him complain he had taken a loan to buy Janet a fridge and microwave, and despite that, she put him out for drinking and quarrelling with one of her daughters.
That ‘gift’ of a fridge and microwave in return for staying free by Janet apparently gave him the right to drink and fight in her home.
On the day he punched and stabbed Janet to death 18 times, he testified Janet called him from work (he was in a bar) and ‘demanded money’ ($3,000)–note he was living by her for free–in his own words, “that woman used to be always there for me.” Instead of paying his dues, he told Janet he was leaving for Trinidad.
Then like any reasonable human who was being used and dumped, Janet reportedly used obscene language, chastising Clint for drinking (he admitted to consuming up to 13 beers that day.)
Janet’s behaviour was ‘reasonable’ given the man sponged off her, ostensibly owed her money and was about to skip off to Trinidad. She didn’t threaten him. She just got angry about being used by Clint, for whom, by his admission, she did everything.
Clint decided to meet her in the villa where she was working and asked to ‘talk’ to her by the pool before he gave her the money. Instead, he met her making the beds (working for money that would mind him) with a threat, “What it is you say on the phone dey?” by punching her in the face, taking the knife (handily placed) from his pants pocket and stabbing her to death (18 times).
After he gave himself up and before he claimed ‘self-defence’ (!) and ‘provocation’, he said simply of the killing that the “argument got really out of hand.”
The ‘argument’ didn’t get out of hand. He got out of hand, and killed Janet, drawing a knife from the waist of his pants (If that knife doesn’t scream intent to murder, what does?)
“I really loved Janet. That woman used to always be there for me. We get into an incident that could have been avoided. I sorry,” Sylvan reportedly told the police.
Clint, who ‘really loved’ Janet, voluntarily drove to her workplace with a knife in his pocket and punched and killed her with “plenty stabs,” called the killing an “accident could have been avoided.”
Yes, it could have been avoided if he hadn’t stabbed her. Or could it have been avoided if she had put up with his drinking-scrounging ways? Being held to account ‘provoked’ him sufficiently to kill her.
In his ruling based on evidence from 14 witnesses and the post-mortem report on Janet Davis, which revealed ‘14 stabs and four incised wounds’ from a knife to Janet, Clint’s words, “What it is you say on the phone dey?” got him off the hook.
Justice Geoffrey Henderson said in a judge-alone trial, “Something was said which suddenly and temporarily made him lose his self-control.” (The judge didn’t know what.) The evidence from his co-workers is that this was the ‘first time’ they saw Clint behave this way. And because no one had seen him stabbing or killing Janet before, it made his behaviour ‘reasonable’ and excused him from murder, downgrading him to accidental “manslaughter’.
Seventeen years later, Janet’s children had to hear that it was their mother’s fault that she was killed. Justice Henderson ruled that a “reasonable man of the same age and background as Sylvan would have reacted similarly.”
With this mindset by the Judiciary–defining a vicious killing as ‘reasonable and provoked’–women in T&T are sitting ducks in killing fields with no justice. Fifty-seven women were murdered in 2022.