When Jackson Donovan Rainford was fatally shot on the night of Dec. 16, 2012, he was 23 years old. The man found guilty of murdering him, Tareek Ricardo Ricketts, was 21.
In Grand Court on Wednesday, lead counsel John Ryder submitted that Ricketts’s age at the time of the crime was a factor Justice Alexander Henderson should take into account when determining the appropriate specific sentence the convicted man should receive.
Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryll Richards pointed out that at the time Ricketts was convicted, life imprisonment was the only sentence the judge could impose.
The Conditional Release Law, which came into effect in February 2016, sets 30 years as the time to be served for murder before the convicted person can apply for conditional release. The 30 years may be adjusted if the judge considers there are exceptional factors that would raise or lower that term.
Justice Henderson was the trial judge when Ricketts was convicted in 2013. He has since retired, but has been returning to court to deal with murder cases in which he was the presiding judge. He heard submissions regarding Ricketts’s sentence Wednesday and reserved his decision.
Mr. Ryder said he did not rely only on Ricketts’s age, but that factor needed to be seen in conjunction with intense jealousy and frustration. Ricketts had been in a relationship with a woman who had two children with him. They stopped being together several months before December 2012 and she began a friendship with Mr. Rainford. Just before the shooting, the woman and children had been dropped off at their home by Mr. Rainford and his brother.
There was likely to have been a degree of emotional immaturity on Ricketts’s part, Mr. Ryder suggested. “An older man might have exercised more restraint,” he added.
The attorney said either factor by itself might not be an exceptional extenuating circumstance, but he urged the judge to take a holistic approach – to consider the collective impact of all the relevant circumstances.
Mr. Ryder pointed out that Ricketts was of previous good character, he had held a good job, he had continued to provide financially for the children even after his relationship with their mother deteriorated, and he picked them up and took them to school daily.
Justice Henderson put these submissions in other words – that Ricketts had been in a quasi-matrimonial relationship and was of an age likely to be enraged by the idea of his former partner driving around with another man.
Ms. Richards did not agree that Ricketts’s age was an exceptional factor, but accepted that the court could consider his level of maturity. She said the question of jealousy did not amount to provocation, but the court could take it into account.
She submitted that the use of a firearm was an aggravating factor.
Justice Henderson commented that it was hard to say murder by shooting was exceptional; most of the murder cases in Cayman that he was aware of seemed to have involved firearms. Later, he observed that the Legislative Assembly would have been aware that in a clear majority of local murders, the weapon was a gun.
He asked if Justice Quin had found exceptional circumstances in a recent murder case involving a gun. Ms. Richards said yes. After being found guilty, Osbourne Douglas and Justin Ramoon were sentenced to 34 and 35 years, respectively, based on the manner in which the killing was carried out and the place – outside a nightclub, where members of the public could have been at risk.
Mr. Ryder replied that those factors were not present in Ricketts’s case.
The final issue addressed by both counsel had to do with the fact that some inmates sentenced to life imprisonment had applied to the governor for release on license and had been successful before the Conditional Release Law came into effect.
Mr. Ryder said it would offend the principle of fairness to change a law so that a prisoner would have to serve longer now than he would have under the old law.
Ms. Richards supplied a list of successful release applicants and how long they had been in custody. The lowest time served was 22 years, she said, and that was one person. Others ranged up to 29 years. It could not be said that there was a legitimate expectation of release after 22 years just because one person was released after that time. The first such release took place in June 2013, she noted.