Judge struggles as he sentences mentally ill man in murder case

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ST. THOMAS - Before Ernestine Carty, 64, was attacked and stabbed to death in her Tutu Hi-Rise housing community apartment, the mother of eight was so well-liked she would open the door for anyone.

"If you were hungry, she'd feed you; if you were down without a roof over your head, she'd take care of you," Carty's grandson, Jahmal Parris, said Friday in V.I. Superior Court.

Then one day last April, Carty opened the door one last time, for 21-year-old Kareem Mulrain, who was sentenced Friday to spend the next 47 years in jail for stabbing Carty 10 times and for a separate sexual assault case.

Parris was among a number of Carty's family members in Judge James Carroll III's courtroom to hear the sentence passed on Mulrain, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for killing Carty.

"It's really hard to believe somebody would take the life of someone who cared for everybody in the community," Parris said.

But the story of how Mulrain came to Carty's doorstep on April 25, 2012, includes at least two major turning points in which the government could have taken steps to keep closer tabs on Mulrain, and in theory, prevent Carty's murder, according to statements in court Friday.

Mulrain, who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and mental retardation, first slipped through the cracks some time after he left high school after his freshman year.

One of his defense attorneys, Paula Norkaitis, read to the court parts of a pre-sentence report that included an interview with Mulrain's father.

His father told probation officers that his son "was a nice guy" until he began hearing voices after his two brothers were murdered, one in 2005 and the other in 2008, according to Norkaitis. Mulrain's father said he became unable to afford his son's medication after his insurance was cut, and the V.I. Human Services Department later denied his request for assistance.

Assistant Attorney General Judy Gomez told the court that Mulrain was receiving counseling while he was in school, but she did not know what happened after he dropped out.

"The gap really occurred after he left the school system," Gomez said.

Mulrain came to the government's attention again following a Jan. 15, 2011, incident in which police accused Mulrain of accosting a 48-year-old woman who was sunbathing topless at Lindqvist Beach. Prosecutors said Mulrain struggled with the woman and fondled her genitals before running away. He later was identified by two eyewitnesses.

Mulrain was charged with second-degree rape in that case, but in October 2012, he pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of first-degree unlawful sexual contact, for which he was also being sentenced on Friday.

Mulrain was out of custody on April 25, 2012, when he climbed the stairs to Carty's top-floor apartment, from which Carty was known to sell drinks and snacks. Prosecutors believe Mulrain, who at the time of his arrest was known by the nickname "Mad Max," stopped by earlier in the day to buy a beer before returning later and stabbing Carty to death inside her apartment.

The court declared Mulrain competent to stand trial on the second-degree murder charge, but he is considered competent only when he receives the appropriate dosage of psychotropic drugs to control his illness, Norkaitis said.

"It is tragic and very unfortunate, but it is also tragic how this country, and indeed the Virgin Islands, treats the mentally ill," Norkaitis said.

Defense attorney Julie Smith Todman echoed the sentiment.

"Only when something happens does the community get up in arms," Todman said. "The community has not rallied to say we need some structure, some housing, some location to provide services to the mentally ill. That has not been a priority of our community."

Mulrain's attorneys asked Carroll to abide by the 25-year combined sentence recommended in the October 2012 plea agreement that consolidated the two cases against him.

Carty's family, on the other hand, asked the judge to make sure Mulrain does not get a chance to cause any more pain.

"I hear voices also," Parris said. "I hear my grandmother telling me it's going to be OK."

Parris started an online petition to the V.I. Justice Department and V.I. Superior Court through the website change.org asking that Mulrain be put away for life. As of Friday, 113 people had signed the petition.

While Carroll emphasized that no provision exists in V.I. law allowing a life sentence for second-degree murder - the law says a person convicted of that crime can be sentenced to any number of years more than the minimum of five - the petition did gain some attention among Justice Department brass, as Chief Deputy Attorney General Wayne Anderson sat in the front row of the gallery during the sentencing hearing.

Carroll said Mulrain's case presented "a very difficult sentencing," pitting the defendant's mental illness and his acceptance of responsibility for his actions against the serious nature of his crimes.

The judge said he considered the 25 years recommended in the plea deal to be "unduly lenient" before sentencing Mulrain to 12 years on the sexual assault conviction and 35 years on the murder conviction, to be served consecutively.

Mulrain will be 68 years old when the sentences run out.

- Contact reporter Lou Mattei at 714-9124 or email lmattei@dailynews.vi.

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