(CNS): A Grand Court judge identified challenges with the new Conditional Release Law during the second ever sentencing hearing in Cayman where a member of the judiciary has been tasked with deciding a tariff in relation to a life sentence. As Justice Charles Quin heard submissions Thursday in relation to the time that two brothers convicted of murdering Jason Powery should serve, he pointed out that the term “exceptional” in the law regarding the mitigating or aggravating factors, which allows a judge to move up or down from the 30 year starting point, was “very difficult” to define.
As Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryll Richards QC set out the crown’s position on the conviction of Justin Ramoon (24) and Osbourne Douglas (28), she pointed to what she said could amount to aggravating factors. She said there was an element of pre-planning as Ramoon, who was identified at trial as the man who pulled the trigger and shot Powery outside a George Town bar in 2015, had acquired the gun from his brother. She said he had fired the weapon in a crowded public place where others could have been hurt, and that Ramoon also had a previous conviction of possession of an imitation weapon with intent.
But the judge pointed out that while these things were listed in the law as possible aggravating factors in a murder case, it was difficult to say when a circumstance might be exceptional in one case and not in another without more precision. He said it was challenging trying to assess what happened in the moments before a trigger was pulled that would define what was exceptional and what wasn’t.
So far there is almost no precedent for judges to use on the legislative change, which has introduced a thirty year tariff for all terms of life in prison. But judges can increase or decrease that 30 year starting point depending on the circumstances.
A long list of potential aggravating or mitigating circumstances are listed in the law as well as a catch-all clause of any other circumstances that the judge feels should be considered, but the bench must decide what “exceptional” means given the circumstances of any case compared to another.
The only one person who has been given a tariff for murder since the law was implemented in February was Tamara Butler, who killed her six-year-old daughter. She was sentenced to 28 years by visiting judge, Justice Alasdair Malcom, who gave Butler a 28 year tariff dropping from the 30 year starting point as a result of the obvious mental health issues surrounding the case.
The case before Justice Quin is the first gang-related killing, in which the victim was gunned down in an execution style shooting. But if there was any premeditation in this case, he questioned whether it could be considered exceptional and noted that many murders could be carried out in public places, and while it could be defined as aggravating, it was another thing to say it was exceptionally aggravating.
The defence attorneys representing the brothers both argued that none of the circumstances were exceptional, and while they conceded there were no exceptional mitigating factors either in the case of their clients, they urged the judge not to depart from the 30 years.
The question over Ramoon’s previous conviction was left unaddressed, however, as his attorney was on video conference from the UK and had not been in receipt of the details of the case. He requested further time to make written submissions regarding the crown’s arguments that this could see the young George Town man receive an even longer term.
Justice Quin agreed to an adjournment and a date is expected to be set for later this month for him to deliver his sentencing ruling.
Whatever tariff the judge sets however, in the case of Ramoon and Douglas it does not mean the men will be released at that point. The tariffs will merely set the first date at which the brothers can appear before the Conditional Release Board for their case to be considered but there is still no guarantee of release. That will depend on the board’s consideration of the behavior and rehabilitation of the men during their time in jail as well as the risk of reoffending.