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Privy Council dismisses appeal of two convicted killers
The Privy Council has dismissed
the appeal of two convicted mur-
ders who claimed that they should
not have faced the death penalty
due to their mental disabilities.
Delivering a 20-page judgment in the
case of two convicted murders Lester
Pitman and Neil Hernandez, the United
Kingdom-based court ruled that there
was no Constitutional bar to persons
with mental disabilities facing the
death penalty despite international
cases and legal opinions to the contrary.
The court's decision in the case was
largely academic as Pitman and Her-
nandez's death sentences had already
been commuted to life sentences due
to delays in hearing their previous ap-
peals. Both men were seeking to have
their sentences reduced as they claimed
that their life sentences were based on
being initially sentenced to death.
Lord Anthony Hughes, who wrote
the judgment, pointed to provisions
in local laws for the partial defence of
diminished responsibility which he
said considered and properly addressed
the implications for mentally impaired
persons charged with murder.
Under the defence, accused persons
may escape the mandatory death pen-
alty if they are able to prove that they
were suffering from an abnormality
of mind which substantially impaired
their responsibility for the crime.
He noted that Pitman was allowed
to raise the defence in a previous ap-
peal against his conviction, but was
discounted as his learning difficulties
were insufficient to qualify for it. Her-
nandez, who suffers from depression
as well as learning disabilities, should
have been allowed to raise the defence,
if his sentence had not already been
commuted, Hughes said.
"The minimum terms attached to
their life sentence were a matter for
the Trinidadian courts, and were de-
termined according to the gravity of the
crimes," Hughes said when considering
if their sentences should be reduced.
While Hughes noted that the defence
was available to accused persons dur-
ing their trial, he claimed it should be
extended to allow it to raised for the
first time in their subsequent appeals,
which can only currently be done with
the permission of an Appellate court.
"The best prevention of such late
appearance of medical evidence lies
in the regular expert examination, at
an early stage, of all defendants facing
murder charges. It must be for individ-
ual jurisdictions to devise such means
of seeking to achieve this as are prac-
tical in local conditions. It may nev-
ertheless occasionally happen that
fresh, and late, evidence is compelling
an that justice requires its admission,"
In his appeal, Pitman was also
challenging his conviction on the
ground that his trial judge should
have excluded a confession statement
from him based questions over his
ability to willingly give the statement
to police due to his limited mental
This argument was also rejected
by five law lords hearing the appeal.
"The expert evidence disclosed
an identifiable mental impairment
in the form of learning difficulties,
but suffered from significant over-
statement and was undermined by
other evidence which plainly showed
that Pitman was able to say what he
wanted to say," Hughes said.
ABOUT THEIR CASES
Lester Pitman was charged in 2001 and convicted in
2004 of the Cascade triple murders. John Cropper, 59; his
mother-in-law Maggie Lee 68; and sister-in-law Lynette Lith-
gow-Pearson, 57, were found dead by police on December 13,
2001. The three family members' throats had been slit and
the house burgled.
In his first appeal, Pitman did not raise issues of his men-
tal health, and it was dismissed.
In a second appeal, Pitman brought mental health experts
to testify of his mental capacity to face trial. This appeal was
also dismissed by the Court of Appeal, which ruled that he
was fit to stand trial and had willingly given the confession
statement to police.
Neil Hernandez was convicted on murdering Christine
Henry and her six-year-old son at Tompire Beach, Toco on
May 2, 2000. Hernandez was convicted in 2004 largely
based on a confession statement in which he allegedly told
police that he attacked the mother and son with a cutlass
after they caught him stealing coconuts from an estate
where her husband worked.
After losing previous appeals, Hernandez filed a fresh
claim that his death sentence should be quashed based on
his mental health.
In July 2014, the Court of Appeal agreed with the fresh
evidence over his diminished responsibility but could not
order a retrial based on the length of time that had passed.
However, it commuted his sentence to life imprisonment.
6.1500 6.6254 6.7993
4.6946 4.9417 5.3371
7.8638 8.2777 8.9306
6.8055 7.1637 7.7368
****** 0.0596 0.0641
2.2339 2.4281 2.6248
2.7166 ****** 3.5196
for MARCH 23RD, 2017
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