A MAN who raped a 19-year-old mute girl in Isabel Province in 2016 and sentenced to seven years in jail was released on Tuesday.
This was because James Wilford, 25, had already served a substantial part of the sentence in pre-trial custody.
Wilford who was sentenced after pleading guilty to one count of rape had been in custody since 3 August 2016 for some three years and 11 months.
Chief Justice Sir Albert Palmer in his sentencing submission said the offence of rape is a very serious offence under our laws and carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
“This is a reflection of the seriousness Parliament views this offence and the communities concern and disapproval of this type of offence and the ever-pressing need to protect children and girls from the predatory activity of some adults,” Sir Albert said.
Sir Albert added that those that engage in such offences unless there are exceptional circumstances if convicted must expect an immediate custodial sentence to be imposed.
“The length of a sentence will depend on all the circumstances of each case and the presence of aggravating or mitigating factors,” Sir Albert further added.
He said the starting point for rape by an adult without any aggravating or mitigating features in a contested case is five years and where there is a feature of aggravating, the starting point has been raised from eight to 10 years.
Sir Albert said for this case, he is satisfied in the circumstances of this case that, where there has been a guilty plea, and a feature of aggravation present, a starting point is 10 years.
However, after balancing the aggravating and mitigating factors together, Sir Albert was satisfied that a sentence of seven years is appropriate in the circumstances of this case.
He also gave credit for the period Wilford spent in pre-trial custody and ordered it to be deducted from his sentence.
Sir Albert further ordered that the sentence should be backdated to run from 3 August 2016.
“I am satisfied too, that the period spent in custody is more than adequate punishment for you in the circumstances of this case and noting as well that a substantial part of the sentence has been served, accordingly will order also that you be released at the rising of the court,” he told Wilford.
The incident happened in 2016 at Lehemeka area in Isabel Province when the victim and her little sister were returning home from their bush garden.
Wilford was 21 years old at that time while the victim was 19 years of age.
He is said to be related to the accused as a distant uncle and resided in the same village as the victim.
The accused and another man were drinking at the side of the road when the victim and her little sister met them on their way back home.
The accused grabbed the bag of sweet potatoes from the victim and then led her forcefully into the bush.
The victim’s little sister pleaded with the accused to leave her sister alone but she was stopped from going after her sister by the other man.
After raping her, the accused told her to wear her clothes and to follow a different road back to their village.
The victim’s little sister relayed what had happened to the victim to their mother upon their return and after receiving confirmation from the victim, the matter was reported to police.
Wilford had earlier pleaded not guilty to the rape charge.
A trial date was set to start on July 13 but at the commencement of the trial, the accused indicated a change of plea, where he was re-arraigned and entered a guilty plea.
Before sentencing Wilford, Sir Albert took into account Wilford’s early guilty plea, he is a first time offender, he is remorseful, his cooperation with police, delay of three years in the listing and hearing of the case and no weapons or threats were used in this offence.
He took into account the accused’s personal circumstances as well.
Sir Albert said the accused’s early guilty plea had also saved the victim the embarrassment of giving of having to give evidence under what would have been extremely difficult and challenging circumstances, bearing in mind that she suffers from physical disability being dumb from birth.
“You have saved her and her little sister from the ordeal and the court and counsel from having to grapple with what would have been difficult issues of hearing evidence in a trial.
On the other hand, Sir Albert also noted the aggravating features presented in this case.
He said the victim suffered from speech impairment, being dumb from birth, which places her in a more vulnerable and weaker position.
“Instead of looking after her and taking care of her as a disabled person (a weak person) that is, someone in need of extra care and protection, you took advantage of her condition, forced her to accompany you and then raped her.
“You were reckless, inconsiderate and more interested in satisfying yourself when you raped her, even though you are a married man.
“In any event, you were from the same village, related and the victim known to you, which places an onus of trust upon you and you failed to take care of her,” Sir Albert told Wilford.
The court also heard that the victim was traumatised by the experience which was noted in the medical report which stated that for about a week she was having trouble sleeping and extra care and attention had to be provided to help her overcome the fear caused by the accused’s actions.
Public Solicitor’s lawyer Allan Tinoni represents Wilford while Public Prosecutors Olivia Ratu and Letiara Pellie appeared for the Crown.
By ASSUMPTA BUCHANAN