The two men convicted of assaulting James "Jamie" Cockayne before he was stabbed to death in the early morning hours of June 18, 2007, were each sentenced Monday to 12-1/2 years in prison and ordered to pay $11,500 in fines.
In statements made to V.I. Superior Court Judge Brenda J. Hollar before they were sentenced, both Kamal Thomas and Anselmo Boston asked for leniency. Thomas said he had not touched Cockayne on the night of his murder, but had, at one point during the evening, chased him up a street before stopping at a nearby bar to buy himself and Boston some drinks.
Looking at Cockayne's father and brother, both sitting in the courtroom, Thomas said, "I am sorry that he died, but I can look you straight in the eye and tell you that I did not assault your son."
Boston said he attempted to hit Cockayne with a pool stick at the Front Yard Bar in Cruz Bay, St. John, but only because he felt Cockayne was trying to pick a fight with him and was threatening him with a beer bottle. He said Cockayne had approached him earlier in the day when he had stopped to pick up a friend. Cockayne was upset over a baseball game and stopped to argue with Boston after noticing the hat he was wearing.
"I was wearing a hat with my name on it," Boston said. Cockayne leaned into the jeep to continue his conversation -- at which time, Boston said he took him out, and as he was driving off, Cockayne kicked the jeep. The jeep was in bad condition, and Cockayne's kicking it would not have been something to start a fight over, Boston said.
During the murder trial Boston, Thomas and Jahlil Ward were co-defendants. Government attorneys said the kicking of the jeep led to the later argument between Boston and Cockayne. They said that after the fight, Boston and Thomas, each toting sticks, pursued Cockayne up the street and beat him, making him an easy target for Ward, who has been convicted of stabbing Cockayne to death a short while later.
Later, as he left the bar, Boston said he was stopped by a police officer, who asked if he had gotten into a fight with a man at Front Yard Bar. Boston said he pointed Cockayne -- who was sitting in another bar at that time -- out to the officer, then met up with Thomas, but refused alcohol, saying that the situation had already "gotten out of hand."
"I got a water," Boston said Monday, adding that he later went home to his girlfriend, and didn't find out until the next day that Cockayne had died.
Thomas and Boston were both found guilty last October on two counts each of third-degree assault and related weapons charges. They were originally supposed to be sentenced last November, but that got postponed after Hollar downgraded the first set of third-degree assault charges to simple assault after attorneys Michael Joseph and Benjamin Currence argued that none of the evidence presented during trial showed that Thomas and Boston ever touched Cockayne before his death, or used any kind of weapon that would have threatened "death or serious bodily harm."
Hollar also dismissed each of the related weapons convictions, saying that they applied to the use of a deadly weapon during the commission of a third-degree assault, as opposed to a case of simple assault.
Joseph, representing Thomas, picked up the same arguments Monday, asking Hollar to treat his client as if Cockayne "had never been killed."
"Without the death, we wouldn't have even been in the courtroom," he said.
But the second set of third-degree and weapons charges stuck, and government attorneys recommended Monday that both Thomas and Boston be sentenced to the maximum five years for third-degree assault and 15 years for the weapons charge. For simple assault, Assistant Attorney General Rene Gumbs Carty recommended six months, saying that Thomas and Boston "brutalized and took advantage of a helpless young man."
Cockayne's father, William Cockayne, described the assaults as "inhuman," saying that Boston and Thomas had beaten his son -- who, according to a medical examiner's report was intoxicated and had "ingested some drugs" -- and left him, without letting any authorities know that he needed help.
Cockayne's brother, Jeff Cockayne, said that he and James Cockayne had fights growing up, but always knew where to draw the line.
"We would never take a stick to somebody multiple times," he said. "There's time between each one of those swings where the person can stop. These gentlemen -- and I say that loosely -- these gentlemen did not take that time."
For the simple-assault charge, Hollar sentenced both Thomas and Boston to six months in prison, and 30 months (48 months with 18 months suspended) for the third-degree assault charge. The two sentences are to run concurrently. In addition, she sentenced them to 10 years each (12 years, with two years suspended) for the weapons charge, for a total of 12-and-a-half years.
Both have to pay a total $11,500 in fines, along with $75 in court costs.