Tareek Ricardo Ricketts was sentenced on Tuesday to at least 30 years imprisonment for the murder of Jackson Rainford in December 2012.
Mr. Rainford was the new romantic interest of the woman with whom Ricketts had been in what Justice Alexander Henderson previously referred to as “a quasi-matrimonial relationship.” Justice Henderson ordered Ricketts to serve 30 years before being eligible for conditional release.
The victim was 23 when he was fatally shot around 10:30 p.m. on Dec. 16, 2012, along Shedden Road while sitting in the passenger seat of a car driven by his brother. Ricketts was 21 at the time.
A Grand Court jury found him guilty in August 2013 and he was sentenced to imprisonment for life, which is the only sentence for murder in the Cayman Islands.
As Justice Alexander Henderson explained, until recently, imprisonment for life meant that the offender had no prospect of ever being released.
Now, as a result of a change in the law, the offender has an entitlement to be considered for release after a certain number of years have passed.
The Conditional Release Law, which came into effect in February, 2016, “contains a clear expression of intent and expectation of the Legislative Assembly: the minimum term shall be 30 years unless there are extenuating or aggravating circumstances that are exceptional in nature.”
At a hearing last month, Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryll Richards submitted that the use of a firearm was an aggravating factor. Justice Henderson, however, noted that “the use of firearms in the commission of offenses is rampant on Grand Cayman.”
Further, of the six murder cases Justice Henderson had to deal with, four of them were shootings.
Finally, he pointed out, if the Legislative Assembly had considered use of a firearm to be an exceptional circumstance, that would have been included in a list of factors to be considered. “Its omission from that list is explained by the 30-year norm, which is the same as the usual starting point in the U.K. for murders committed with a firearm.”
Defense counsel John Ryder had submitted that Ricketts’s age at the time of the shooting, plus jealousy and a lack of maturity, all added up to an exceptional extenuating circumstance.
Justice Henderson accepted that jealousy was a motive, but he was not able to characterize these factors as exceptional.
“A consideration of his age, his maturity level, and his justified feelings of jealousy do not suggest to me that the circumstances are unusual or uncommon. Indeed, in cases of violent assault and murder, these factors are commonplace,” he said.
In this case, Ricketts himself was involved in a new romantic relationship, “a circumstance that would tend to blunt his feelings of jealousy,” the judge commented.
The final argument affecting sentence was legitimate expectation – based on the recent release of prisoners serving life sentences after an average incarceration of about 26 years. They had applied to the governor under the 1975 Prisons Law; the governor’s jurisdiction has now passed to the Conditional Release Board.
Justice Henderson cited an affidavit from the secretary of the Conditional Release Board, who was also secretary of the previous Parole Commissioner’s Board. She said the first person serving a mandatory life sentence was released on license on June 21, 2013.
But the murder Ricketts was convicted of occurred in December 2012. “Thus, Mr. Ricketts could have had no expectation, legitimate or otherwise, concerning possible release on the day he committed the offense,” the judge reasoned.
Further, when Ricketts was convicted, only one prisoner had been released on license. “I cannot infer the presence of a legitimate expectation of release at the time of sentencing from this single instance,” he said.
Ricketts may have entertained “a hope” of early release, but the number of prisoners released to date was too small a number to permit a reasonable conclusion that a new policy had become entrenched and would necessarily be followed by successive governors, Justice Henderson said.
The 243 days Ricketts served on remand are to be deducted from his prison term.