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Mar 19, 2019

A Tiff at Hattieville Ramada Over Right to Attorney

While the month long trial continues in the Belmopan Supreme Court, attorney Herbert Panton and Virigilio Murillo, C.E.O. of the Belize Central Prison, were involved in a back and forth. Panton accused Murillo of not allowing him to meet with the accused men, in breach of their constitutional rights. Murillo says there are protocols in place at the prison that need to be satisfied for a meeting between Danny Mason and the four others and their attorney. In the end, cooler heads prevailed and Panton was allowed a visit. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

William ‘Danny’ Mason, along with four others, is on trial for the murder of Pastor Llewellyn Lucas.  The five men have been charged under the doctrine of common purpose, or what is known legally as joint enterprise.  Together, they have been imputed criminal liability for the beheading of the Christian minister back in mid-July 2016.  Since their arrest and subsequent pretrial detention, Mason and his co-accused have retained the services of attorney Herbert Panton who has been meeting with them at the Belize Central Prison ahead of the ongoing proceedings.


Herbert Panton, Attorney for Mason, et al.

Herbert Panton

“That has been a challenge from day one, but it only came to head last week before the trial commenced when I had attempted to meet with all five of the accused at the same time.  I was told [that] I can meet with three and then I can meet with one and then I can meet with another one.  I had indicated to the parties concerned that they are charged jointly, so that if they are going to mount a defense it has to be with all parties concerned.  Essentially, they have to be singing from the same hymn sheet.”


While he has been meeting with his clients separately, the fact that all five men are charged for commission of the same crime prompted Panton to seek a meeting with them collectively, to chart the way forward.  That request was denied by the Kolbe Foundation.


Virgilio Murillo

Virgilio Murillo, CEO, Kolbe Foundation

“In all honesty, Herbert Panton knows that for the last almost three years since Danny Mason and this crew has been in prison, he has been abiding by this protocol.  There is a security protocol in place, in particular for these five guys because of the high publicity that the case has gotten and the sensational situation that it has created and prison security is a kind of security [that] you can’t play with.  It’s a very volatile environment for people who don’t know.”


According to Panton, the modus operandi of the Belize Central Prison, in respect of these high-profile inmates, has created an issue insofar as him being able to meet with his clients.


Herbert Panton

“I spoke to a number of people.  I was eventually able to speak with Mr. Murillo, the CEO of the prison and he indicated to me that these are the protocols are in place and those protocols will remain.  Were it not for the gracious assistance of the judge presiding, we would have been flying blind basically.”


Those security measures, says Chief Executive Officer Virgilio Murillo, have been in place for some time and that Panton, himself, is quite familiar with them.

Virgilio Murillo

“Really and truly, there is nothing new about this protocol.  What happened that day is that he called me when he was at the prison, absolutely no notice any at all and he just expects that I must take the protocols and just throw it away.  I can’t do that.  I don’t even know what is in the minds of the other four accused.  What if in that little room they decide to create a brawl and by the time I could get to rescue Danny Mason, I mean, he is already badly injured or killed.  I mean, what explanation would I have for the public?”


Justice Antoinette Moore, in exercising her discretion, issued a removal order for the accused men to meet with their attorney last Friday to craft their defense, but not before the issue had created serious concerns in respect of their constitutional right to legal representation.


Herbert Panton

“Any accused person has a constitutional right to speak with their attorney in private.  The fact that this has somehow become a policy at the prison smacks of incompetence, in my view, and I think that it is something that whatever ministry is responsible for the prisons needs to look into because the prison is a private contractor, the prison is not a government agency.  But even as a private contractor, you cannot be trampling over the constitutional rights of prisoners.  They have a right to consult with their attorney.”


That notion is altogether rejected by the CEO.


Virgilio Murillo

“It is so easy for these attorneys to jump at this section of the constitution that talks about deprivation of that fundamental right to an attorney.  That is not being practiced, I mean I would never do something like that.”


Murillo says that he would be more than willing to accommodate such a request, if and when advance notice has been given in writing.  He says the door is still open for Panton to make that call with due notice.


Isani Cayetano reporting for News Five.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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