Convicted killer’s long walk to freedom

The gallows had been built and his grave dug. 

Rope had been imported from India to tie the hangman’s noose that would end the life of Owen Barrington Bruce after he was sentenced to death for the 1986 murder of his friend Charles Rankine.  

But now, 28 years later, Bruce is a free man in Jamaica, bringing an end to a story that has spanned three decades. 

Bruce was sentenced to death at Northward Prison in August 1986 at the age of 30. 

The Grand Court had heard that the body of Mr. Rankine, an East End fisherman, had been discovered by tourists on a diving trip at Spotter’s Bay. He had died from five bullet wounds.  

The law had little room for movement. Bruce had taken a life, and in return he would lose his own. 

But the expensively assembled gallows, which cost the government almost $332,000, went unused following a sudden decision from the U.K. to repeal the death penalty in its overseas territories. When the U.K. issued an Order in Council abolishing the death penalty in the Overseas Territories in April 1991, the death sentences were commuted to life in prison. The gallows building, complete with grave vaults for executed prisoners, had been nearly completed at Northward Prison. This was just months before Bruce was scheduled to hang. 

Bruce was released by order of the governor earlier this year and deported back to Jamaica. 

A deportation notice from Acting Governor Franz Manderson appeared in the Government Gazette on June 30, publishing the order for Bruce to leave and not return to the island.  

Debbie Prendergast, administrator to the parole commissioners and prisons Inspection Boards, confirmed that Bruce was deported on May 16. He was accompanied by immigration officers on the flight back to Jamaica. 

All released prisoners who do not have Caymanian status or Permanent Residency Rights to Remain on the Island, are deported to their home countries on release, as per the Immigration Law, she said. 

Bruce is one of a handful of lifers who have been released amid human rights concerns about the Cayman Islands policy of handing down life sentences for all those convicted of murder. 

Blandford Lowell Dixon and Lensel Vernie Dixon were also charged alongside Bruce with the murder of Mr. Rankine, their stepfather, in what was the Cayman Islands’ first three-person jointly charged murder. They were both convicted in January 1987 and also sentenced to death. The men’s mother Natalie Rankine had also been charged with the murder of her late husband but the charge was dismissed when a judge ruled there was not enough evidence to convict her. 

Blanford Dixon was released from prison last year by former Governor Duncan Taylor. He was the first of the prisoners to be released, while his brother still awaits release, along with two other lifers. The other lifers have been released on license – meaning they face supervision locally for a period following their parole. In Bruce’s case, such a supervision order was not possible because he was required by law to leave the island. 

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