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Dec 20, 2016

Behind Prison Walls, Inmates Hope for New Lives

A recent ruling by the Court of Appeal will have significant bearing on the lives of inmates convicted for murder. The decision primarily hinges on parole rules mandating that those serving life sentences for homicides are not to be considered, much less granted parole. The court in October determined that the Criminal Code is unconstitutional in this respect. For inmates behind bars, it means that after serving a certain prison time, they may be eligible for parole. That, however, depends on the outcome of a constitutional challenge presently before the Caribbean Court of Justice.  The News Five’s Isani Cayetano goes behind the prison and visits with two inmates who now have a chance for new a lease on life.

 

The Belize Central Prison endures as the only correctional facility in the country.  Housed within this fortified compound are hundreds of inmates that are either on pretrial detention or have been convicted of various offences.  Among them is a subgroup, a lost population of men who have been condemned for the rest of their lives.

Gregory August, a resident of Mile Eight, near the outskirts of Belize City, is one such individual who was sentenced to life in November 2013, for the murder of an elderly neighbor.

 

Eamon Courtenay

Eamon Courtenay, Attorney for Gregory August

“The law, as it stands, provides in the Criminal Code that a person who is convicted of a class B murder must serve life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.  We were contacted and asked whether we would take up an appeal for Gregory August.  Mr. August not only challenges the conviction that he says he is not guilty, but he also challenges the sentence and the constitutionality of that sentence.”

 

At age twenty-one, August reportedly stabbed and killed Alvin Robinson inside his home in the West Lake Community.  On the night of May twenty-fifth, 2009, the senior citizen was knifed multiple times to the neck.  His granddaughter made the gruesome discovery a short time after.

 

Viannie Majil

Viannie Majil, Granddaughter of Deceased [File: May 26th, 2009]

“Every night we ker tea fi ahn and thing like that.  Bout nine-thirty, ten when we gone dah back deh gawn ker ih tea.  I find him di sit down pan ih bed, ih back mi deh slouched and ih head mi deh down and ih two hands mi deh to ih side.”

 

Despite being fingered as a suspect, arrested and charged for murder, before being found guilty of the crime four years later, August maintains his innocence.  His recollection of being processed is rather lucid.

 

Gregory August

Gregory August, Inmate, Belize Central Prison

“I just find myself di spend five days da di Queen Street Police Station and dehn tek me dah court afta dehn charge me fi murda to some elderly person and dehn ker me dah di court and [eena] di courtroom di judge seh dat you’re remanded to the Belize Central Prison and ever since then, 2009, I still deh dah di prison.”

 

Ever since then, he has been fighting for his freedom.  A sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole is perhaps harsh and unjust.  On one hand, it can be argued that the sentence fits the crime; on the other, it can be deemed cruel and unusual.

 

Iliana Swift

Iliana Swift, Attorney for Gregory August

“I think what struck me as a young person is the fact that he was accused, has been convicted also, of committing a murder at a very young age of nineteen.  He was incarcerated at the age of nineteen and he remained on remand for over three years, before actually having a trial.  So you can’t help but draw some comparison, as a young adult, to your own life.  What if it was that at the age of nineteen when you were just leaving high school, you were accused of killing someone, you were on remand for three years and then eventually convicted and being told that this is where you are going to stay for the rest of your life.”

 

That’s exactly where Patrick Reyes has been since being spared from death row in 2002.  Convicted of the double homicide of a husband and wife couple in Teakettle Village in 1999, the former public officer was facing capital punishment.  That’s until the matter went before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and was subsequently dismissed.  Reyes’ sentence has been reduced to life in prison.

 

Patrick Reyes

Patrick Reyes, Inmate, Belize Central Prison

“I would like to be with my family, my wife and my kids and also my ten grandkids.  That would be something real, like a renewal and [being born over, yeah.”

 

Isani Cayetano

“That reincarnation hinges upon a constitutional challenge being mounted by August’s legal team.”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“The Court of Appeal handed a judgment in which it held that the Criminal Code was unconstitutional, that part of the Criminal Code, the proviso to Section 106, is unconstitutional because it provides that a person who is convicted of murder and a Class B murder is to be sentenced to life in prison.  The parole rules under the prison regulations specifically state that a person who is serving time for murder is not entitled to apply for or seek parole and therefore, what you have is a scenario that a person who suffers this sentence is unable to come out of prison at all.”

 

The Belize Central Prison, Hattieville Ramada, as it is colloquially known, sits on fifty acres of a sprawling two hundred and twenty-five acre property.  It’s nine miles away from August’s home, a place he hasn’t seen since being taken into custody seven years ago.

 

Gregory August

“Dis da noh di place weh nobody woulda wahn live because ih rough.  Dehn time da mi wahn new building, when ih hot een deh really hold di heat.  When ih cold een deh hold di cold.  So ih mi just rough. Somehow within me I know that there’s an almighty God weh di control my case from di get-go due to the fact that I sih people weh guilty ah murda walk and di one like me weh noh do di crime still deh ya and dehn convict me.  So weh di run through my mind now that dis da wahn call fi some big purpose, you know.  I neva shed no tears.  I neva cry, I neva do nothing because I trust God, right.  And I pray every day pan my time and up to todeh day that he wah mek ih reveal fi he powers and fi he works to di whole world weh give up pan he and even Mr. Reyes deh weh di pray and pray for years fu come affa life sentence.”

 

While Reyes’ freedom, to an extent, relies on the outcome of August’s case before the Caribbean Court of Justice, ruling in August’s favor has a potentially far-reaching effect.

 

Iliana Swift

“It’s not only within the CCJ’s jurisdiction, it’s within the Commonwealth’s jurisdiction.  It would be persuasive authority for other Commonwealth countries that if it is that the CCJ rules in our favor then other Commonwealth countries can rely on it on highly persuasive authority that life, mandatory life imprisonment is unconstitutional.”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“The reason that we say that was unconstitutional and the Court of Appeal upheld it is, first of all, every judge when it comes to sentencing a person, must be able to look at the facts of the particular case to see what is the appropriate punishment for that particular crime.  The sentence must fit the crime.”

 

And that principle should hold true for as many as forty-one inmates, including Patrick Reyes, who are serving life sentences at the Belize Central Prison.

 

Gregory August

“I find myself di wait sixteen months fi wahn judgment weh clear forty-one inmates and I feel like dat da mi di big purpose a my time da di prison, you know, fi clear forty-odd inmates weh di pray day and night, day and night fi go home.  Mr. Reyes explain it to you. We pray day and night, forty-odd inmates and I gaan like di chosen one, di way I see it and di way I still feel inside dat I trust my God and he wahn reveal it and I cyant mad with he fi put me eena dis situation fi show fi he works.  My life dah no fi me.”

 

Isani Cayetano

“Have you ever thought about whether or not you’re prepared to go back into society?”

 

Patrick Reyes

“Always.  Always.  Why?  That would be a nice feeling to hear something like that.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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