DPP says death penalty near impossible

ST JOHN’S, Antigua – Securing a death penalty on a murder conviction in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) is “virtually impossible” as the legal standard to be met is extremely high.

That’s according to Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in St Vincent & the Grenadines Colin Williams, who said, even if the lower court (High Court) orders the death penalty for murder, the appellate courts – Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) and Privy Council – would overturn the ruling.

DPP Williams said, “The threshold is so high, it is virtually impossible for anyone really to suffer the death penalty because there is this procedure you have to go through. (The court) must be satisfied there is no way this person can be rehabilitated and the death penalty is the only appropriate penalty.”

Williams’ remarks come amidst growing enthusiasm among residents for the death penalty to be mandatory in cases of murder and on the heels of a government statement indicating that the authorities would utlitise all necessary legal processes to give effect to the death penalty.

The death penalty is on the local law books, but a ruling in the ECSC has set a precedent making it unconstitutional for such a penalty to be mandatory, Williams explained.

The renewed call for hanging followed Tuesday’s murder of a saleswoman, Susan Powell, who was shot in the head while at work at First Gadget Electronics in Heritage Quay.

Details surrounding the killing have been sketchy and police have only said the incident occurred around 1:15 pm, while a cruise ship was docked at the Quay.

Williams further said the Privy Council, Antigua & Barbuda’s final court of appeal, has outlined when the death penalty would be applicable.

The guidelines are found in the case of Trimmingham v The Queen in which the Council pointed out such penalty should be imposed only in cases which, on the facts of the offence, are the most extreme and exceptional; “the worst of the worst” or “the rarest of the rare”; that there must be no reasonable prospect of reform of the offender and that the object of punishment could not be achieved by any means other than the ultimate sentence of death.

Following the Council decision, back in 2011, in Antigua, a High Court judge denied the prosecution’s application to have two-time killer, Ashworth Bunche sentenced to death.

Bunche, was found guilty of murdering his friend – by shooting him about the body multiple times in 2007, and was sentenced to life in prison.

Prior to killing his friend, Bunche had served a 10-year sentence for killing another man. He had pleaded guilty to the alternate count of manslaughter.

Although Justice Mortimer Cumberbatch described the crime as heinous and said Bunche should have learned a lesson having previously served 10 years in jail, he said the case did not satisfy the threshold to warrant the death penalty.

(More in today’s Daily OBSERVER)