Lover killed in ‘blind panic’

| 03/04/2014

CNS): Elsey De Ortega Barralga (29), who has admitted killing Perry McLaughlin at his home in Little Cayman last November, stabbed him out of “fear, desperation and sheer blind panic”, her defence attorney told the court Wednesday. Maura McGowan, QC, said that in a flash of anger McLaughlin had swept everything on a kitchen counter to the floor, including a block of knives, before he dragged Barralga to the same floor by her hair and rained down multiple blows to her head with his fists in an effort to stop her from leaving the house. Barralga grabbed a knife to defend herself, but in the end went beyond self-defence and landed a fatal blow when he was no longer a threat.

Barralga had been charged with murder but on Monday the crown accepted a plea to manslaughter by reason of provocation, averting the need for a trial. During the sentencing submissions before Justice Charles Quin, the court heard that the argument between the couple, which started on their journey home from a night out drinking, had quickly turned physical at McLaughlin’s house, where Barralga had also been living for the two months before the killing.

During the course of the argument Barralga had told McLaughlin that she was going to stay at a friend’s home but McLaughlin became incensed and with a sweep of his arm, scattered all of the items on the counter around the kitchen, including at least seven different knifes from a block that had been sitting there. As he screamed abuse at her, dragged her to the floor and punched her repeatedly in the head she genuinely believed her life was in danger and grabbed a knife. The court heard she began blindly stabbing at McLaughlin landing blows to his arms legs and groin area. However, at some point he let go of her, and as she tried to get out of the house the fight continued.

The couple shouted at each other more and as she ran towards the laundry area he followed. At that point, the attorney told the court, Barralga believed McLaughlin had also picked up a knife – which was believed to be one found by the side of the washing machine by police who came to the scene.

With her exit blocked and McLaughlin telling her she was not leaving otherwise he would kill her, he again grabbed her hair, demonstrated by chunks of matted hair extensions found in his wounds. Barralga stabbed McLaughlin three times in the chest, the last of which was the fatal blow, which the medical examiner said would have killed him within a minute.

McGowan told the court that she had then fled the house running barefoot through broken glass in the kitchen, through the yard, where she dropped the weapon, and then to a neighbour’s house, who gave evidence to the state of shock the woman was in when she arrived.

Unaware of the serious and fatal wounds she had inflicted, she told the neighbours that McLaughlin had tried to kill her, and in what witnesses described as an obvious state of shock and confusion, she had vomited, but had not told them the extent of McLaughlin’s injuries so they had not called the police or medical services.

The next day, when McLaughlin’s body was discovered, Barralga could not believe she had killed him. McGowan said her client had no understanding of what she had done, as she asked the court to show mercy on the woman who had shown remorse, lost her previous good character, her life in Cayman and, above all, the man she loved.

The lawyer told the judge that there was no history of physical abuse between the couple, who had been friends for some time before a romance developed, and she had moved into his house when a former girlfriend of McLaughlin’s moved out. The court heard that McLaughlin was possessive towards her and had become even more so after she moved into his home. And although he was having affairs with other women, which he had told her she must put up with, he was reluctant to allow her to leave the home to go to work.

Many years younger than McLaughlin, who was 54 when he was killed, the court heard that Barralga came to the Cayman Island from Honduras in 2006 with her ex-husband and that she has a 12-year-old daughter, whom she supports. McLaughlin, meanwhile, was well known in Little Cayman and was a very successful businessman.

After listening to submissions from the prosecution and the defence regarding the facts and the circumstances, as well as the level of provocation, it was apparent that there were some discrepancies between the crown and Barralga’s attorney as to the category under which the offence fell.

The crown argued that the circumstances of the fight presented low provocation, while the defence claimed that it was in fact high and up to the very last blow she had acted in self-defence. The final stab wound which killed McLaughlin had taken her beyond self-defence because she had lost control through the provocation.

The possible sentencing ranges presented to the judge by the two sides were widely different, with the crown asking the court to start at 12 years before he considered any mitigation and discount for her plea, while the defence argued his starting point should be much lower at just three years before further reductions for mitigating factors and the guilty plea considered. Both sides agreed that there were no aggravating factors in the case.

Faced with significant detail and evidence in the case, as well as the discrepancies between the sides, Justice Quin said that he would take time to consider the sentence and would deliver his decision on 15 April.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    No one will dare say it, but for Perry McLaughlin, his chickens came home to roost.  Many Brackers remember a good Canadian woman with whom he lived 20 years ago – whose house on Little Cayman he stole. whose business (jeep rental) he stole, and whose real estate business he stole.  And then he declared her persona non grata in the Cayman Islands and she was deported, and never was able to return.