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Privy Council cuts murderers’ prison terms

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Two convicted murderers have had their minimum terms in prison cut by the Privy Council in London.

Westgate inmates Ze Selassie and Jermaine Pearman yesterday saw their mandatory jail sentences reduced by three years and six years, respectively.

The landmark decision by the Privy Council's Judicial Committee could see the terms imposed in a number of Bermuda's recent high-profile murder cases going back to the courts for review.

Its ramifications on Bermuda's sentencing regime are now being assessed by Government.

In a judgment delivered by Lord Wilson, the Privy Council's Judicial Committee found the minimum sentences for both Selassie and Pearman, imposed by Bermuda's Court of Appeal, to be in excess of the limits set by law.

Their cases were argued by John Perry, QC.

Selassie has successfully challenged his minimum sentence of 28 years' imprisonment for the May 2008 premeditated murder of 14-year-old Rhiana Moore, and Pearman his mandatory minimum of 21 years' imprisonment for the July 2009 murder of 23-year-old Shakeya DeRoza.

Selassie, who was originally sentenced to 35 years, had his sentence cut to 28 years by the Court of Appeal in 2011. In light of that appeal, Pearman was able to get his life sentence reduced from 25 years to a minimum of 21 years.

Selassie's victim was seven months pregnant with his child. He stabbed her 18 times and left her body in the sea.

Pearman killed his estranged girlfriend, also by stabbing, after breaking into her Sandys residence.

Selassie was represented locally by lawyer Elizabeth Christopher; Pearman's counsel was Craig Attridge.

The latest ruling determines that in passing sentencing for premeditated murder, and for simple murder, the court is not allowed to impose minimum terms greater than 25 years or 15 years respectively.

The judgment stressed that a prisoner's release remains contingent on the findings of a parole board.

“The Board assesses his suitability for release in the light of a number of factors, in particular the perceived level of the risk that he will reoffend,” Lord Wilson wrote.

The Privy Council's decision has potentially far-reaching implications for lengthy terms meted out for violent crimes.

Tariffs will be subject for review in the premeditated gun murder cases of Kevin Warner, sentenced to 32 years for the shooting of Dekimo (Purple) Martin; Derek Spalding, jailed 38 years for murdering Shaki Crockwell; Devon Hewey and Jay Dill, who were each sentenced to 40 years' imprisonment for the murder of Randy Robinson, and David Cox, the murderer of Raymond (Yankee) Rawlins, who was jailed for 38 years.

It could also affect the simple murder cases of Antonio Myers, Darronte Dill and Norris Simpson.

Myers is serving 38 years for the shooting of Kumi Harford, while Darronte Dill was jailed 20 years for the double murder of Maxwell Brangman and Frederick Gilbert.

Norris Simpson was sentenced to 23 years in jail for the murder of Ida James.

According to a spokesman for the Legal Affairs Ministry, Government will review the ruling and “consider the impact on our law and sentencing regime”.

He added: “This decision does not, however, impact on the Government's commitment to address the gang issue through community outreach programmes and the support of strong enforcement action on the part of the Bermuda Police Service.”

Meanwhile, lawyer and legal blogger Peter Sanderson interpreted the ruling as a possible “storm in a teacup”.

“Parliament passed a law on tariffs for life sentences, which said that a murderer shall not be eligible for release until they have served at least 15 years in prison, and a premeditated murderer shall not be eligible for release until they have served 25 years,” he said. “The Bermuda Court of Appeal had said these tariffs were void because tariffs are a matter for the trial judge under the Bermuda Constitution. As they were void, the trial judge could decide on a higher or lower tariff, depending on the circumstances of the case.

“However, the Privy Council reached the conclusion that the 15- and 25-year limits were in fact setting maximum periods — i.e. that Parliament meant eligibility for parole could be set for any period up until 15/25 years.

“This means that prisoners currently serving life sentences with longer tariffs will be able to get their tariffs capped at 15 or 25 years. It is stressed that this does not mean murderers will automatically go free after 15 or 25 years — it is still a matter for the parole board as to whether they should be released.

“It is also stressed that Parliament could get around the Privy Council judgment by simply removing the maximum periods retrospectively. Although the Bermuda Constitution prevents penalties being increased retrospectively, there are good legal precedents that the period for parole eligibility is not a penalty for that purpose.”

Added Mr Sanderson: “If that is right, then the Privy Council judgment might turn out to be a storm in a teacup.”

Ze Selassie
Jermaine Pearman (Photo by Glenn Tucker)

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Published October 09, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated October 09, 2013 at 1:50 pm)

Privy Council cuts murderers’ prison terms

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