John Talmage Gouldbourne was sentenced on Monday to serve 23 years before he can apply to be released from prison for the August 2004 murder of Moreen Maree Williams.

A jury convicted him in June 2006, but he had been in custody since the date he shot 29-year-old Ms. Williams in the head after inflicting 67 knife wounds that varied in degrees of seriousness. He had begun seeing Ms. Williams about three months before the killing.

At the time, the only sentence for murder was life imprisonment, but the Conditional Release Law that came into force in February 2016 requires that anyone sentenced to life must be given a specific number of years before he or she can apply for release. For murder, that sentence must be 30 years unless there are exceptional aggravating or extenuating circumstances that could raise or lower the sentence.

Justice Charles Quin, who took over the case from trial judge Justice Karl Harrison, gave judgment on the sentence. He ruled that Mr. Gouldbourne’s age at the time of the offense – 55 – and his state of mind at the time were exceptional extenuating features.

He noted that the sentence began from the date Mr. Gouldbourne was convicted, but that he would receive credit for the 660 days he was in custody before his conviction. Now 68, he will be eligible to apply for release in 2027, just after he turns 78.

In a previous hearing, Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryll Richards had advised that Mr. Gouldbourne was the oldest person awaiting sentence for murder. She had provided another court with a list of ages at which each of 22 men convicted of murder in Cayman had committed his offense: the median age was 25; the average was 27.

She and defense lead counsel Charles Miskin referred to U.K. cases. One of the courts there listed the age of the offender as a mitigating factor when there is “the risk of an offender dying in prison, either due to a particular health problem or simply by reason of general life expectancy …. There should be some light at the end of the tunnel.”

Ms. Richards also submitted that there were aggravating features to the murder committed by Mr. Gouldbourne – the terrifying mental ordeal for the victim as well as the horrific physical suffering. Ms. Williams had screamed for help and neighbors tried to break down the door to Mr. Gouldbourne’s apartment to go to her aid, but they were not successful. Even if the ordeal lasted 20 minutes, as the defense asserted, Ms. Richards said it must have seemed a lifetime to the victim.

Mr. Miskin called it “a shortish frenzied attack” in which many of the knife wounds were “taunting pin pricks,” but he noted there was no evidence as to what had triggered the attack. There was no evidence of any sexual interference and Mr. Gouldbourne did not give evidence at his trial.

Justice Quin accepted what Mr. Miskin said about Mr. Gouldbourne’s background. He had lived in the U.S., where he went through more than one broken marriage. He came back to Cayman to look after his elderly mother, he was financially dependent on his father, and he lived in cramped accommodations lacking cooking facilities, “all of which in an ordinary male could lead to serious loss of self-esteem and despair.”

Justice Quin concluded that there was some mental instability in Mr. Gouldbourne’s case, even though it was not to the threshold of diminished responsibility.

He said 23 years would satisfy the law’s requirement that consideration be given to the principle of rehabilitation without injuring the principles of retribution and deterrence.

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  1. The headline is misleading: This man has been given the only sentence that can be handed down for a capital crime – life imprisonment. The 23 years relates only to the minimum term he must serve before he is eligible to apply for parole. If and when his application for parole is agreed he will be released ON LICENCE for the rest of his life which will include conditions then agreed with the probation service. He will be liable, if he breaches these conditions or commits another offence, to be recalled back to prison to serve out his life sentence.