Convict Blanford Dixon could be first of several
A handful of men now serving life prison sentences for murder convictions in the Cayman Islands could be released, depending on upcoming applications made to the territory’s governor.
The first of them, Blanford Dixon, was set free on Friday under certain licence conditions not disclosed by the governor’s office. He was sentenced to life in prison following the 20 January, 1986 killing of his stepfather, Charles Evans Rankine.
The Caymanian Compass has learned that at least three other convicted killers have applied to have their life sentences reviewed, including two other men who were convicted in Mr. Rankine’s 1986 murder. Decisions regarding their cases have not yet been reached.
In 2006, the then-Cayman Islands Human Rights Committee considered a complaint brought by six men all imprisoned for life after being convicted of murder in four unrelated cases during the 1980s and 1990s. Prior to 1991, murder convictions in the Cayman Islands were punishable by death, but in the spring of that year the United Kingdom abolished capital punishment in all its overseas territories. Since then, the only permissible sentence for a person convicted of murder is life without parole. Blanford Dixon is one of the prisoners who had his initial death sentence commuted in 1991 because of the UK’s decision.
In the 2006 human rights case, members of the former Human Rights Committee advocated on behalf of the six convicted killers serving time at Her Majesty’s Prison at Northward in Grand Cayman. The group requested that the Legislative Assembly give local judges more discretion in specific cases where a life without parole sentence may not have been warranted.
After a seven-month review, HRC attorneys concluded that laws which impose life sentences for all offences of murder are contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as two other international human rights treaties. The committee said in its ruling that the prisoners would be “highly likely” to succeed if they took their claims before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, and that they would probably be awarded damages. Attorneys also said Cayman could then be forced to change its laws.
The then-HRC’s issues with regard to life sentencing guidelines dealt with proportionality in sentencing. In Cayman, it is possible that the same sentence would be handed out for a mercy killing as would be given to someone convicted in a triple homicide.
Blanford Dixon’s conviction was one of those considered by the then-HRC and subsequently by Governor Duncan Taylor.
According to a statement released by Governor Taylor’s office: “Under Section 31(A)(1)(c) of the Prison Law, I have the power to order the release on licence of a convicted prisoner serving a life sentence. After careful consideration, and following a recommendation from the Parole Commissioner’s Board, I have decided to exercise this power and release Mr. Blanford Dixon on licence.
“This is not a decision which I have taken lightly, but after having taken all factors into account, I believe it is the right decision,” Mr. Taylor said.
Also, according to the law, any prisoner released on licence in such a way can be recalled to prison by the governor and must meet any supervision provisions set out in the licence for his or her release until that expires.
Convicted along with Blanford Dixon in the 1986 murder was his brother Lensel Dixon and a third man, Owen Barrington Bruce. The other two men remain in Northward prison, but it is understood both have made similar applications to the governor’s office.
The Dixon brothers’ father, now 90, hopes he will see his other son, Lensel, be released from lock-up soon.
“It’s been hard on me sometimes,” the elder Mr. Dixon said Saturday at his East End home. “I used to go visit them [in prison] often, but now I have a pacemaker and I can’t get around as well.”
Asked what Blanford Dixon would do now that he had been released, Mr. Dixon said he didn’t know: “I have a job he can do now. I got a kitchen here that I want the sink out of it. He does pretty good cabinets, you know.”
The Caymanian Compass did contact Blanford Dixon through family members on Saturday, but he declined to speak to the newspaper.
Governor’s office staffer Tom Hines said Friday that the move to release Blanford Dixon on licence was a “proactive” one by Mr. Taylor. However, he said that territorial governors simply releasing prison inmates on licence, even with advice from the Parole Commissioner’s Board, isn’t a long-term solution. “The best solution would be is if there were a Parole Law … that gave the judge a chance to set a minimum tariff,” Mr. Hines said.
This is not a new idea. In fact, it was recommended by the 2006 Human Rights Committee report. The tariffs, or minimum sentencing guidelines, would allow judges to review the sentence after the minimum number of years had been served, and determine whether the convicted murderer were still a danger to society.
The then-Human Rights Committee recommended either the sentencing judge, or the chief justice, be allowed to review the circumstances surrounding the “lifers’” crimes, and determine a minimum prison term. If any of the six had already been in prison longer than the minimum term, and a judge decided they pose no risk to the public, they would have to be released.
In addition to three men convicted in the 1986 murder of Charles Evans Rankine, there were three other murder cases involved in the “lifers” matter.
William Stuart Powell was charged and convicted in the June 1986 shooting deaths of Charles and Gaynell Ebanks. Powell had his death sentence for the crime commuted after the UK changed the law in 1991.
McAndy Ford Thomas was charged and convicted in the March 1990 death of 77 year-old Ratmir Pavlovic. Mr. Pavlovic was an employee of the Gold Royale jewellery store and was killed during a robbery at the store. Another man who police said was involved in the heist, Jerry Machado Christian, was found guilty of manslaughter and given a 14-year sentence. Mr. Christian was not involved in the HRC complaint in 2006.
In January 1994, George Roper and another inmate barricaded themselves in a cell at Northward prison. A prison employee died in the incident, a death for which Mr. Roper received life imprisonment.