‘Concerned about my safety’ - Rushane Barnett’s lawyer thinks social media commentary could lead to attacks on her
Amid a flurry of attacks from angry social media users, Tamika Harris, the court-appointed lawyer who is representing the 'Cocoa Piece butcher', Rushane Barnett, says she is worried for her safety.
Harris, who is unequivocal that she "absolutely do not regret taking on the matter", said some of of the recent comments in the social media space have caused her some unease.
"I am concerned about my safety because I am not sure how persons, who are not so well-thinking, will interpret comments from L.A. Lewis, for example, who said that I should be run out of the village," the seasoned lawyer told THE STAR yesterday.
Barnett, 23, in July pleaded guilty to killing his cousins, Kemesha Wright and her four children -- Kimanda Smith, 15, Sharalee Smith, 12, Rafaella Smith, five, and 23-month-old Kishawn Henry Jr.
Harris, who has been on the receiving end of a string of insults since she began representing Barnett, came under renewed attack after she asked the sentencing judge to give him a 33 1/3 per cent discount on the sentence as a result of his early plea.
L.A. Lewis, a self-styled maroon emperor and entertainer, is among those taking the attack to the lawyer:
"This lawyer a one a di wickedest lawyer pon the planet. People, I wouldn't advise nobody fi give her nuh job. Anybody name Tamika Harris, people, unnu put dem out a unnu district," Lewis said in a social media video.
The rant continued: "Imagine dis boy yah, people, kill di woman one daughter weh she have, and kill the woman four grand pickney -- stab dem up, rip dem up like thread -- and Tamika Harris, people, inna di court house a say the yute fi get off and if him nuh get off scotch free, [seh] him fi get only 45 years".
One social media user said that Barnett "fi kill she next".
But Harris, who is a board member of the Legal Aid Council as well as the chairperson for the Jamaica Bar Association's criminal law practicing committee, said "those comments don't hurt".
"It is concerning in relation to whether those persons realise that they are articulating, or expressing for a crime to be committed against me," she said.
Harris, who is not paid by Barrett for the case due to her functioning as a legal aid attorney, opined that the outcry of citizens has brought to the fore the urgent need for the relevant authorities to host a public education fora, clarifying the role of the various players in the legal system. She stressed that Barrett is entitled to legal representation.
"If I didn't take on that matter, there would be another lawyer who would've taken on the matter, and that lawyer would have been going through the very same thing that I am going through. It really doesn't matter who the lawyer is, as long as that gentleman is represented by counsel, there would be a lot of persons who would've been uncomfortable with that situation. I cannot regret the role," Harris declared.
During a sentencing hearing last week, Paula Llewellyn, the country's director of public prosecutions, said Barnett should serve 60 years and nine months before being eligible for parole. She told the judge that a lower sentence may "shock public confidence".
Harris, however, wants the judge to discount the sentence being given to Barnett due to the fact that he pleaded guilty at the first opportunity and did not waste the court's time.
"Forty-five years is four-and-a-half decades, I don't think it is unreasonable low," she told THE STAR yesterday.
"I understand the shock, I understand the sentiments of what the whole Jamaica is going through but what I am saying is that after forty-five years, his situation can be reviewed," Harris added.