Court of Appeal judges this week denied appeals for reductions in sentences by four murderers and a rapist, who are all serving life behind bars.

The four men convicted of murder – Larry Ricketts, Brian Borden, Raziel Jeffers and Leonard Ebanks – were sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole, under Section 182 of the Cayman Islands Penal Code, which “requires that anyone convicted of murder must be imprisoned for life”. Jeffrey Barnes was also sentenced to life in prison, after having being convicted of rape.

Before 2014, a life sentence meant spending the rest of one’s natural life behind bars. However, the introduction of the Conditional Release Law made it mandatory that tariffs (or a defined term of imprisonment) be set for prisoners’ regardless of when they were convicted or sentenced. For murder, the prescribed starting point is a minimum of 30 years, but as with all sentences, a judge has the power to increase or decrease the sentence, based on the circumstances surrounding the crime. Section 14 of the Conditional Release Law also makes it mandatory for prisoners serving life sentences for murder to become eligible for parole after serving a minimum 30‑year period.

Following the introduction of the Conditional Release Law, all five men in these appeal cases were re-sentenced in accordance with the new guidelines. In August, they looked to the Court of Appeal to have the sentences reduced.

First up was Larry Ricketts, 36, who is serving a 40‑year sentence for the 2008 murder of Estella Scott-Roberts. Ricketts, along with his co-defendant Kirkland Henry, who is also serving a life sentence, kidnapped, raped and murdered Scott-Roberts on the night of her 33rd birthday. Ricketts’ attorney Amelia Fosuhene appealed his sentence on the grounds that the murder was opportunistic, Ricketts was not convicted of a second indictment relating to the crime, and at the time of the murder he had no previous convictions.

The judges rejected the application stating that Scott-Robert’s death “was a truly horrific murder” and “… a minimum term of 40 years’ imprisonment was appropriate having regard to the retribution, deterrence and rehabilitation”.

Next before the judges was 34‑year-old Brian Emmanuel Borden, who is serving a 34‑year prison sentence for the 2011 murder of Robert Bush. Sexual jealousy was said to have played a role in the gang-related shooting. Borden’s defence counsel Guy Dilliway-Parry, argued that in other local cases of murder, such as R v Trevino Bodden (a double murder with a firearm), a minimum term of 28 years was imposed. Dilliway-Parry argued that when compared to those cases, Borden’s sentence “was out of order”.

The appeal judges rejected the application and said, “the judge was entitled to conclude that the appropriate minimum term of 34 years was appropriate.”

Raziel Jeffers, 36, is serving a 38‑year sentence for the murders of Marcus Ebanks and Damion Ming in 2009 and 2010, respectively. Jeffers was the third applicant before the Court of Appeal judges. He is also represented by Fosuhene, who argued that Jeffers’ sentence breached Section 8(1) of the Cayman Islands Constitutional Order 2009, resulting in a heavier penalty than was applicable at the time the offences were committed, and is therefore unlawful. She also argued that Jeffers had a legitimate expectation that he would receive a shorter sentence than the one imposed. However, the judges dismissed the application saying, “It cannot be arguably said that the minimum term set by the judge was manifestly excessive.”

Leonard Antonio Ebanks was the last of the four men convicted of murder to appeal his sentence. Ebanks, 48, is serving 34 years in jail for the 2010 murder of Tyrone Burrell. Ebanks was also represented by Fosuhene, who argued that, similar to Borden, the tariff was out of line when compared to other local cases. The appeals court judges also rejected the argument and declined the application.

The final person seeking a reduction in his prison sentence was 39‑year-old Jeffrey Barnes. Between 1999 and 2013, Barnes was convicted of raping three women, as well as a separate case of abduction and indecent assault, including two victims who were teenage girls. In 2018, Justice Charles Quin imposed a determinate sentence of 35 years on Barnes, but then reduced it by 40% to arrive at a 21‑year sentence.

Nicholas Dixey, who represented Barnes, argued that when compared to the standard English and Wales guidelines, the 35‑year sentence was too long, and therefore the 21‑year sentence now required a reduction. The judges rejected the arguments on the grounds that it was not manifestly excessive.

Once the five men serve their prescribed periods of imprisonment, they will become eligible for parole. Once they become eligible, they will have the chance to go before the parole board, who will decide whether they should be released.