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Death row nearly empty

Case of last murder convict facing death sentence on appeal
Guardian News Editor

Published: Aug 27, 2012

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The Bahamas has recorded several hundred murders in recent years, but there is only one convicted murderer still under the sentence of death at Her Majesty’s Prisons and his case is on appeal before the Court of Appeal, according to records kept by the Office of the Attorney General.

Mario Flowers was sentenced to death for the December 29, 2007 murder of Ramos Williams, a policeman who was killed in the line of duty.

He is appealing his conviction and death sentence.

While a high murder count often leads to an outcry for the resumption of capital punishment, significant rulings of the Privy Council make executions seem unlikely.

A report released recently by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) — a principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS) — encourages The Bahamas and other member states in the region, which maintain the death penalty, to impose a moratorium on executions.

The commission also urged The Bahamas to ratify the protocols of the American Convention on Human Rights in abolishing capital punishment, and to refrain from introducing measures that would expand or reintroduce its application.

The 200-page report entitled ‘The Death Penalty in the Inter-American Human Rights System: From Restrictions to Abolition’, details the results of its examination from the “most important decisions” of the death penalty system in nine member states over the last 15 years.

According to the report, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados are the only two countries in the Caribbean that retain the mandatory death penalty, although Barbados is in the process of adopting reforms.

The last hanging in The Bahamas took place in January 2000 when convicted murderer David Mitchell was executed.

The American Convention does not prohibit the imposition of the death penalty, but does impose specific restrictions designed to delimit strictly its application and scope in order to reduce the application of the penalty.

Inmates at Her Majesty’s Prisons who were previously under the sentence of death, had their sentences commuted to life in prison, received other sentences or had their sentences overturned on appeal.

Many of them were resentenced because a 2006 Privy Council ruling determined that the mandatory death sentence was unconstitutional in The Bahamas.

Some of them had been under the sentence of death since the 1990s.

Many of the condemned men escaped the death penalty because the Privy Council ruled in 1993 in the Jamaican case of Earl Pratt and Ivan Morgan, that it would be cruel and inhumane for prisoners to wait more than five years on death row.

The lengthy appeals process has also meant that the possibility of the resumption of capital punishment in The Bahamas is very slim.

Convicts who lose their cases before the Court of Appeal could still appeal to the Privy Council and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

This process without any time limits means that the five-year period for executions set by the Pratt and Morgan ruling often runs out.

If the Court of Appeal affirms a death sentence, there is no timeframe for a person to appeal to the Privy Council and the convict often does not until a death warrant is read.

Last year, Parliament passed a law that outlines the categories of murder and states which would have the death penalty attached.

This came several months after the Privy Council ruled in the Maxo Tido matter, quashing his sentence and declaring that the murder of his 16-year-old victim did not fall into the category of ‘worst of the worst’ or ‘rarest of the rare’ and therefore did not warrant the death penalty.

That ruling came just over five years after Tido became the first person in The Bahamas to be sentenced by a judge using discretion after the 2006 ruling that eliminated the mandatory death sentence.

The Bahamas hanged 50 men since 1929, according to records kept at Her Majesty's Prisons.  Five of them were hanged under the Ingraham administration; 13 were hanged under the 25-year rule of the Pindling government, and the remaining inmates were executed between 1929 and 1967.

Prime Minister Perry Christie recently reaffirmed his support for the death penalty, but pointed to the standards set by the Privy Council, which make its application difficult.

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