Regatta-killers get a sliver of perspective – Appeals court lets lifers off the hook with 30 years

POSTED: 09/19/12 1:58 PM

St. Maarten / By Hilbert Haar – Not a life sentence but 30 years of imprisonment. That is the verdict the Common Court of Justice pronounced yesterday against Regatta-killers Sherwan Roberts and Curtley Allison Richards. Solicitor-General Taco Stein told this newspaper that he is studying the verdicts and that he has three weeks to consider cassation at the Supreme Court in The Hague.

Roberts’ attorney Shaira Bommel was pleasantly surprised with the verdict, while Richards’ attorney Geert Hatzmann said that the ruling was the maximum he could get out of the case for his client.

During what Solicitor-General Stein called “three weeks of terror” between February 25 and March 5 of last year Richards and Roberts killed three men – Ludovic Guillevin, Eduardo Nova Valdez and Foidel Louis – repeatedly raped a young woman, ill-treated another one and robbed three other men.

The Court in First Instance sentenced the two defendants in December to life imprisonment. At the appeal hearing in the Common Court of Justice on August 30, Solicitor-General Stein demanded again life imprisonment, but judges Van der Bunt, Van Kooten and Verheijen arrived at a different conclusion and imposed the longest possible temporary prison sentence of 30 years.

“The question arises whether the proven facts and their consequences are so serious that imposing a temporary prison sentence is insufficient and that therefore life imprisonment must be imposed in accordance with the demand by the solicitor-general,” the judges wrote in both rulings.

The judges refer to a ruling by the European Human Rights Court that says that “imposing life imprisonment is “irreducible” and therefore has to be considered as incompatible with article 3 of the Human Rights Treaty if the convict is reprieved of any perspective for release. Life imprisonment means in fact that the convict in principle remains detained until his death and that he will not return to society.”

The judges acknowledge that lifers have the option to ask for a pardon. “That cannot be excluded, but the court considers the chance (that such a request will be honored – ed.) extremely slim, given the fact that lifers are rarely granted a pardon and that the court does not know of any case wherein a request for a pardon by a convict who is sentenced to life imprisonment has been granted.”

The judges also involve the social and political situation in St. Maarten in their ruling: “It cannot be said that currently in Sint Maarten the social or political will exists to take the right to a pardon as point of departure for very serious crimes.”

The court furthermore notes that is does not know of any case wherein a convict with a life sentence went to the civil court to ask for a ruling about the legality of the (further) execution of his sentence, or a case where in such a convict submitted a request ex article 43 of the code of criminal procedures. Said article is a request for early release.

“The solicitor-general has pointed out that the draft of the new criminal code contains a provision for a review of a life sentence after twenty years, but in this case the current legislation has to be the point of departure and that legislation does not contain such a provision.”

The judges add to this remark that it is also uncertain whether a review will reach “the status of positive legislation.”

The court used these considerations to supports its “extreme reluctance” to impose life sentences, also taking onto account that Roberts is now just 21 and Richards 32. “Imposing a life sentence is only then in order when after the passing of a lengthy temporary prison sentence the realistic fear exists for a repeat of similar crimes.”

The judges concluded that there are “insufficient concrete reasons” to fear that the defendants will commit similar crimes in the future thirty years from now.

For Richards, the psychologist and the psychiatrist said in their reports that there is an average chance that he will commit similar crimes again, and that the chance that this will happen depends on the defendant’s preparedness to stop drinking alcohol. During the three weeks of terror, Richards drank two bottles of whisky per day. The court assumes that the lengthy stay in prison will get Richards accustomed to a life without alcohol. “It cannot be excluded that the passing of the years and the lengthy prison sentence will also have a positive influence on the defendant’s behavior,” the judges state in their ruling.

For young Roberts, the judges picked up on the psychiatrist’s remark that there is a chance he will commit similar crimes again “if he is returned to society just like that.” Both the psychologist and the psychiatrist said in their report that Roberts needs treatment. Though the psychiatrist is negative about the result of such a treatment, he also noted that Roberts reacts positively to structure. “Structure is inherent to a stay in prison,” the judges state in their ruling.

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Comments (1)


  1. Rielle says:

    Disgusted, by the courts as usual. Apparently Human Rights don’t apply to the humans who were murdered for as little as $5, or their human families who have already been sentenced to a life without them.

    It took those criminals 20 and 30 years to be willing and able to murder 3 people (that we know of), and they have another 30 years to build up the stamina to murder more. At least there is the option to deport them, so they can kill elsewhere. Clearly those judges don’t have to live on the same island with them, and neither do we.

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