Back in April the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) agreed to grant convicted murderer Gregory August special leave to appeal his conviction subject to the Court of Appeal hearing and reasoning on two matters raised before them for the first time. One is the matter of trial judge Adolph Lucas not directing the jury to consider August’s good character when he spoke from the dock in his murder trial in 2012, and the second is whether the mandatory sentence of life in prison offered in alternative to the death penalty, which was not considered in this case, was constitutionally imposed. Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay spoke to the press after the conclusion of the special session just before newstime and explained why he believes it was not.
“The point is this, we do not say, Mr. August does not say that a person should not in an appropriate case be sentences to life imprisonment. What we do say and say very strongly is that the constitution requires a sentence to be imposed by a judge. It requires the judge to look at all the circumstances, the facts of the case, the circumstances in which the murder was committed. It looks at the antecedent, is this a bad person? Did they have a previous criminal record? Were they gainfully employed? Do they have a family? Etc. Then there are a number of issues – there is retribution, there is deterrence and prevention but there is also rehabilitation and reformation. Mr. August in this particular case, this offence was committed when he was 19; he was sentenced when he was 24. We say that it is inhuman to say to him for the rest of your life until you die, you are committed to prison. What do we say that? Because the constitution says no one should be denied his human dignity and if you tell a man that you have nothing more to live for until your death, then you are deluding him of his human dignity which is at the centre of the Belize constitution.“
August is convicted of the murder of 73 year old Western Paradise Village resident Alvin Robinson in May of 2009. August’s conviction and sentence of life imprisonment were affirmed in February of this year by the Court of Appeal. Robinson, who was physically disabled and blind in one eye, was stabbed 9 times in his face and neck. He was found on his bed clinging to life and died while on his way to the hospital.
Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryl-Lynn Vidal, responding for the Crown, stated that the conviction was safe and that August is not beyond all hope for rehabilitation. While it has never heard a case to completion, the Belize Advisory Council can recommend mercy to the Governor General for a convicted murderer serving a life term – parole rules apply to those convicted of crimes other than murder. The decision in this matter is reserved, but August is looking forward to his final chance to clear his name, according to Courtenay.
Eamon Courtenay, SC
Mr. August has already appealed to the CCJ. As you know, the CCJ gave special leave when it was here, but what the CCJ said is that these two issues are issues that we want to argue before them but we did not argue before the Court of Appeal. So they have asked the Court of Appeal to express its opinion on these two issues; whether a good character decision should have been given and whether the sentence is unconstitutional… express its opinion and then the matter will go to the CCJ for determination. I want to make clear that Mr. August position is that he should not be convicted of murder, he was wrongly convicted of murder and that is a matter that the court, the CCJ is going to decide.”
Also appearing with Courtenay was Illiana Swift and Anthony Sylvestre.