Published On: Tue, Jan 7th, 2014

Bahamas government to address death penalty in war on crime

Perry_ChristieNASSAU, Bahamas - Prime Minister Perry Christie said the government of The Bahamas will give the issue of capital punishment “serious consideration” and suggested his administration might address it through constitutional proposals.

“The capital punishment issue is one that is bound to surface now with the types of crimes that are taking place,” Christie told The Nassau Guardian on Wednesday shortly after the first murder of 2014 took place.

“There is considerable discussion going on now about effecting the constitution, about actually [examining] the law that was put in place by the Ingraham administration to guide the decision in setting out those circumstances in which capital punishment should be mandatory,” the prime minister said.

“There have been arguments that, that have not been... sufficiently effective and to make them effective one has to make constitutional amendments.

“And that is a very serious issue that... will have to be given serious consideration from the Bahamian people.”

In 2011, legislation was passed that would make a person convicted of killing a member of the Royal Bahamas Police Force, the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, the Department of Customs, the Department of Immigration, the judiciary and the prison services eligible for the death penalty.

An offender would also be eligible for the death penalty once convicted of murdering someone in the commission of a robbery, rape, kidnapping or act of terrorism.

In July last year, the Constitutional Commission recommended that the government further amend the law to “tie the hands” of the Privy Council on the death penalty issue.

Christie spoke of the apparent disconnect between the Privy Council and the Bahamian people generally on the issue.

"While capital punishment is on the law books, the difficulty has been that the Privy Council, the highest court of The Bahamas, has defined the worst of the worst,” Christie said.

“Let me give you an example where a young man took a young lady out of her home and killed her,” he said.

Christie was referring to the case of murder convict Maxo Tido, the first person sentenced to death in The Bahamas after the Privy Council ruled in 2006 that the mandatory death sentence was unconstitutional.

In 2011, the Privy Council upheld Tido’s murder conviction in the brutal killing of a 16-year-old girl in 2002, but ruled that the crime did not warrant execution because the girl’s murder was not the “worst of the worst”, or “rarest of the rare”.

“That was not the ‘worst of the worst’. And so, there is clearly a disconnect with what Bahamians would believe should be deserving of capital punishment and what the Privy Council believes should be the standard,” Christie said.

“So it's a vexing matter in the country.”

In the nearly three years since that ruling, there have been ongoing worries about the high rate of murders in The Bahamas.

Already for 2014, three murders have been recorded with the most recent occurring Thursday night.

Last year, 120 murders were recorded, up from the 111 in 2012.

The old year 2013 ended with four people shot dead and another seven injured.

That incident heightened debate on crime and capital punishment.

On Monday, MP Leslie Miller said if his parliamentary colleagues, including Christie, are not prepared to carry out the law on capital punishment they should “leave Parliament and get lost”.

Miller, a long-time advocate of capital punishment, added that the country should abandon the Privy Council.

He pointed to “stupid excuses about the Privy Council” when he called into ‘Darold Miller Live’ on Guardian Radio 96.9FM.

“I don’t give a damn what they (international bodies) say,” Miller said.

“This is my country called The Bahamas. We have an obligation to take care and safeguard the lives of our people.

“I will say that as soon as Parliament resumes. You either do the right thing or get out of Parliament, all of them, from the prime minister down.

“If you don’t want to do the right thing, leave. Give it to someone else to do. You either put up, or you shut up.”

Asked to respond to Miller's statements, Christie said, "There are some people in there (Parliament) who may not believe (in capital punishment) and others who believe.

"I think he has a point of view. The issue will be discussed and will be debated and for those who believe in capital punishment, they will have the opportunity to say that. It is the law of The Bahamas.

"And so, even those who do not believe in capital punishment still accept that. The law in The Bahamas today actually sets out capital punishment as the absolute punishment for the crime of murder."

Christie has previously expressed his support for the death penalty.

The last time capital punishment carried out in The Bahamas was on January 6, 2000, when David Mitchell was hanged for murders of a wealthy German couple at Abaco. Horst and Traude Henning had been vacationing at their winter home, when they were viciously attacked and stabbed to death in their sleep. Mitchell had been the Hennings’ caretaker at the time.

By Krystel Rolle
Nassau Guardian Staff Reporter

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