An attorney plans to appeal Larry Ricketts’ conviction for the October 2008 murder of Estella Scott Roberts
Nicola Moore said she has briefed counsel in London regarding a request to the Privy Council for leave to appeal Ricketts’ conviction. If that fails, she said she will seek a review of his sentence of life in prison at the governor’s discretion to the European Court of Human Rights in the Hague.
Ms Moore, of Priestleys Attorneys at Law, said the mandatory sentence of imprisonment for life in a murder conviction in the Cayman Islands “is cruel and unusual punishment.”
“To have people in prison for the rest of their natural life at the governor’s discretion contravenes articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, which extends to the Cayman Islands by virtue of its relationship with the United Kingdom,” she said.
Chief Justice Anthony Smellie found Kirkland Henry and Larry Prinston Ricketts both guilty of murdering Estella Scott Roberts on the night of 10 October, 2008, following their trial in February 2010.
On the night of 10 October, 2008, Mrs. Roberts was celebrating her 33rd birthday with female friends at Decker’s Restaurant, having already celebrated with her husband two nights before. She was last seen walking toward the rear of a car park furthest away from West Bay Road. She was driven to an isolated area of West Bay where she was raped, robbed, killed and had her body incinerated in her car.
Henry had already pleaded guilty to rape in relation to the incident. Ricketts has never been tried for rape.
At the time of the verdicts, the Chief Justice had already pronounced the sentence mandated by law – that the men be imprisoned for life.
Ms Moore said she interprets the sentence to be in violation of Article Three of the human rights document, which states that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” She said no prospect of or possibility of parole fits the description of inhuman.
She said Article Five stipulates there needs to be a judicial process when considering a person’s freedom. She said the governor’s discretion contravenes this principal.
Henry has also applied to the Privy Council for leave to appeal his conviction, though he is not being assisted by Ms Moore in that regard. The two men’s requests may be heard together; however, in which case Ms Moore will have to wait to see if their convictions stand before she makes any effort to get more specific sentences for them. This would simultaneously affect others who may be serving the rest of their lives in prison and possibly change the law in Grand Cayman.
“In addition to Ricketts, I am about to meet with two other men who have been in prison for 26 years. The Human Rights Commission has been looking into tariffs for years. It is not the law’s intention to take an eye for an eye and prison is not only about punishment but rehabilitation,” she noted, adding that in England people rarely get more than 20 years in prison for murder.
In the event that the men’s attempts for an appeal fail, the attorney will argue the case for new sentencing guidelines for them to the European Court of Human Rights in the Hague. The cost to do so is 800 Euro each.
Speaking about her client in particular, she said initially, no one would represent Ricketts.
“Partners were telling their attorneys that to represent such a client would mean the loss of commercial business. But at Priestleys, the view was taken that everyone is entitled to representation and we decided to give it a try.”
A case several years ago in which six men serving life sentences sought assistance regarding their sentences to the Cayman Islands Human Rights Committee was agreed with by the committee at that time. Though apparently, no further action has been taken on their behalf.
“At all relevant times (and currently) the sentence for murder in Cayman has been prescribed by law, with the result that there is no judicial discretion in sentencing,” read the report by the Cayman Islands Human Rights Commission, which essentially said that there needs to be varying sentences in varying circumstances of murder.
The document outlined the following:
1) The mandatory life sentence for murder is founded on the assumption that murder is a crime of such unique heinousness that the offender forfeits for the rest of his existence his right to be set free.
(2) That assumption is a fallacy. It arises from the divergence between the legal definition of murder and that which the lay public believes to be murder.
(3) The common-law definition of murder embraces a wide range of offences, some of which are truly heinous, some of which are not.
(4) The majority of murder cases, though not those which receive the most publicity, fall into the latter category.
(5) It is logically and jurisprudentially wrong to require judges to sentence all categories of murderer in the same way, regardless of the particular circumstances of the case before them.
Since 4 November, 1950, when the Convention was signed, its various articles have been interpreted and developed in various judgements by the Court. In a number of high-profile rulings the European Court has found that any mandatory sentence will be unlawful, violating Articles 3 and 5, if it is arbitrary and disproportionate to the gravity of the crime. The Privy Council in various cases and the final appellate domestic courts of the UK and Jamaica, all considering identically worded provisions of domestic laws, have delivered similar judgements.
It is unclear what an appropriate sentence for Ricketts would be under the European Court’s guidelines. The death penalty is also not an option.