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Twins’ co-murderer has his minimum prison term cut

Dennis Robinson, one of the men convicted of murdering the Cooper twins, had his minimum jail term reduced from 12 to 11 years after a long-running series of appeals.

Chief Justice Richard Ground said Robinson deserved to spend a little less time in prison as he'd suffered serious injuries in a retaliatory attack by his co-accused in the murder case.

His decision yesterday came after Robinson took an appeal against his conviction and sentence all the way to Bermuda's highest court, the Privy Council in London.

The Privy Council refused, earlier this year, to overturn Robinson's conviction for his role in the brutal killing.

However, it said in light of a decision by Bermuda's Court of Appeal earlier in the history of the case, the original trial judge Mr Justice Ground should reconsider the minimum term of imprisonment Robinson should serve before he is eligible for release.

Robinson's co-accused, Kenneth Burgess, bludgeoned 20-year-old Jahmal and Jahmil Cooper to death with a metal baseball bat at his Devonshire apartment in March 2005.

The attack was said to be in revenge for the twins allegedly robbing Burgess's father. Prosecutors say Robinson guarded the door to prevent escape and then helped Burgess dispose of the bodies down Abbot's Cliff in Hamilton Parish.

Both were found guilty of murder by a jury and jailed for life. In law as it stood at the time, that meant each man would have to serve at least 15 years before he could be eligible for parole.

In 2009, the Bermuda Court of Appeal dismissed Robinson's appeal against his conviction. However it made a landmark decision to reduce the number of years he must serve in jail before being eligible for parole from 15 years to 12 years. That period is known as the “tariff”.

The period was reduced due to the lesser role Robinson played in the crime, compared to Burgess. The ruling was a significant one for Bermuda, as it gave judges the power to decide how long convicted murderers should spend in jail.

The Court of Appeal said the statutory minimum period set by Parliament in law was “unconstitutional and void” and judges should be able to set a minimum period above or below 15 years depending on the circumstances of individual cases.

Since the Court of Appeal refused to quash Robinson's conviction, his lawyers John Perry QC and Craig Attridge took a further appeal to the Privy Council. When the matter was heard in London on December 15 2010, Mr Perry again argued that Robinson should have his conviction for murder quashed. He alleged that the prosecution's case that Robinson aided Burgess in the murders was flawed on several grounds.

The panel of five Privy Council judges rejected the invitation to overturn the murder conviction in a judgment delivered earlier this year.

When they were invited to reconsider Robinson's prison tariff once again, the judges said the issue should be reconsidered in Bermuda by Mr Justice Ground, who was the trial judge when the case was first heard.

That resulted in today's hearing, where Mr Justice Ground was invited to set a minimum period that Robinson must spend in jail before he can be considered for release.

Prosecutor Cindy Clarke argued that Robinson should spend at least 14 years behind bars for his role in the killing.

She acknowledged he played a lesser role than Burgess, but argued Robinson was still “a principle” in the attack and not a secondary player.

She said his role was aggravated by him being involved in the killing of not one, but two persons. She said the evidence showed he threatened a witness to the incident by pushing him out of the room and that he helped dispose of the twins' bodies.

However, defence lawyer Mr Perry QC urged the Chief Justice not to exceed the 12 year tariff imposed by the Court of Appeal.

He described that as “manifestly unjust” and “excessive” and suggested Robinson should only receive eight years in punishment.

“Mr Robinson has paid heavily for his limited involvement in the offence committed by Burgess,” argued Mr Perry.

He said right-thinking people in Bermuda would believe Robinson's tariff “should be vastly reduced” from that of Burgess.

Mr Perry stressed that Robinson was merely a secondary player in the crime and did not kill the two victims or aid in their deaths.

He said Robinson did not in any way threaten the witness and evidence he helped dispose of the bodies was unreliable.

He added that Robinson should have taken the stand to give evidence in his own defence during the original trial, but did not do so out of fear of Burgess.

He also pointed out that Burgess and another Westgate prisoner, Kamel Trott, beat up Robinson inside prison in 2007, leaving him with a broken jaw, perforated right ear and fractured eye socket.

Prosecutors said Burgess launched the attack in retaliation, blaming him for his conviction in the Cooper twins case. Mr Robinson had to spend a long period on his own in prison segregation after being released from hospital, owing to the threat to his safety.

Mr Perry added that Robinson has, this week, expressed “deep remorse” over his role in the crime.

Ruling that the appropriate tariff for Robinson should be 11 years before he can be considered for parole, Mr Justice Ground said: “My view, as the trial judge, of this defendant's participation was that he stood by and assisted while Mr Burgess carried out a disciplinary or ‘enforcement' action against two of his cohorts”.

He said the pair were long-term associates, having been involved in criminal activity in the United States.

“On the night of the offence, I think he kept the door for Burgess at the beginning; removed potential witnesses from the scene; returned in the knowledge of what had been going on and then assisted in the disposal of the bodies.”

He said he accepted Robinson “did not actually participate in the infliction of the violence” and that he may not have known it would end in death.

“But he must have known, or realised as it progressed, that Burgess intended to cause really serious bodily harm,” he said.

Mr Justice Ground added: “He certainly now has cause to be fearful of Burgess, and I accept that he has paid a high price for his association as a result of the beating he received in prison. I accept that that has also lead to him spending a long time in segregation, for no fault of his own, and has increased the burden of prison for him.”

He said that he would have left the tariff at 12 years rather than reducing it to 11, “had it not been for the prison beating”.

The tariff is backdated to the time Robinson was first remanded into custody after his arrest in March 2005, meaning he could be eligible for release as soon as March 2016.

Dennis Robinson, co-murderer of the Cooper twins in 2005, has had his minimum jail term cut from 12 years to 11 years.

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Published March 12, 2011 at 8:03 am (Updated March 12, 2011 at 8:03 am)

Twins’ co-murderer has his minimum prison term cut

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