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Chandroutie's cry of desperation

April 22, 2000
By Selwyn R. Cudjoe

WHEN Chandroutie London was sentenced to death for her part in the murder of her daughter, Vidya, it seemed to be the end of the story. A young woman had killed her daughter, buried her in a latrine and so must die for her actions. That might have been the end of the story except that Gemma Smith (not her real name), a caring, sensitive African woman and member of NAEAP, believes that Chandroutie is taking the rap for a crime for which she is not legally responsible.

Chandroutie was the victim of sexual and physical battering from Kenrick London, her husband, whom she married at the age of 18. She alleges that her father and other relatives sexually abused her. Even in her marriage she was sexually abused. Her emotional state was so bad that "at nights, she dreamed that someone was sexually abusing her". Often, she would wake up screaming. Inmates in her dormitory indicated that she often screamed in her sleep.

In her sleep she fought constantly with others. Every time she drops off to sleep, she has this recurring dream about someone trying to rape her. Thus sleep, the refuge of the tired and persecuted, became a living nightmare. In her sleep, the cognitive and affective irresolution of her life became manifest. Her guilt, lack of trust, dependency and rage were bundled up into those frightened moments of her existence.

Kenrick's ability to get Chandroutie into his grip was not a difficult matter. He started with her mind and her tragic relationship with her father. Kenrick "told me that he knew why my dead father could talk through him and that he (my father) wanted to talk to us [my mother and I]." He told us my father was not pleased about what was happening at home when he died. He returned another day and told us that we needed sea baths because there were evil spirits in the place and he could get rid of them."

Thereafter, Chandroutie came under Kenrick's absolute control. He told the court he was an Obeah man. When he met Chandroutie and her mother at their home in Esperanza Village, "he exorcised evil spirits from them in a ritual on the beach which entails stripping them naked and shaving off their hair." In the trial, much was made of his "commanding power" over Chandroutie. After she was convicted, her mother declared that "Obeah overcome this girl since she stop school".

Chandroutie testified that she was under Kenrick's physical and mental control and was asleep when her daughter was killed. She says: "I was not feeling well one day so I took some tablets and went to sleep. When I got up, I asked Kenrick for Vidya he told me she was okay. Kenrick used to deprive me of seeing Vidya. He said that was his possession and that he will see about her. The only time I used to have time with her was to breastfeed her and I couldn't do it in public because he used to tell me I was exposing my body."

Kenrick dictated the confession, one of the crucial bits of evidence upon which she was convicted. She signed it under duress. He told her to take the rap because the system is more lenient with women. Overlooked was a neighbour's testimony that Chandroutie and her child enjoyed a close relationship up until the strain became too much for her.

She says that she had nothing to do with the murder. Yet, Kenrick, the Obeah man who has the power to exorcise demons, told the court she had everything to do with it. He testified that Chandroutie squeezed Vidya to death. "I was about ten to 15 feet from she and she drop the child on the ground...I did not pick up the child and meh wife leave and gone inside." Stunned by all of this violence, Kenrick could only watch helplessly as Chandroutie "returned with a piece of cloth, gazette paper and a big plastic bag in which she deposited the child. He told the court: "I didn't tell she anything because I was in shock...."

A casual observer realises that Chandroutie displayed all the signs of Battered Women's Syndrome (BWS): a) the traumatic effects of victimisation by violence; b) learned helplessness deficits resulting from the interaction between repeated victimisation and violence; and c) self-destructive coping responses to the violence perpetrated upon her. Her learned helplessness and diminished self-esteem are critical features of BWS, the result of a violent relationship with her husband.

A team of psychologists, psychiatrists and psychiatric social workers at St Ann's Mental Hospital evaluated her and found that she was not responsible for committing this crime; that, indeed, she displayed diminished culpability in this matter. Her level of fear, her chronic apprehension; and her symptoms of post-traumatic disorder (e.g., re-experiencing the trauma, numbed responsiveness, depression and anxiety) suggest that Chandroutie could not be responsible for the death of her child. Culpability lay elsewhere.

The introduction of the BWS defence could have helped the jury to determine which of the two diametrically-opposed sworn statements (that of husband and wife) was true and whether they established diminished responsibility on Chandroutie's part.

If Chandroutie was forced to commit an act at the insistence of an abusive partner and was under serious coercion and duress when this crime occurred, then it might be possible to find diminished culpability in her actions.

The evidence suggests that Chandroutie was not responsible for her daughter's death, a point I will examine in next week's article.

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