(CNS): A local man serving a full life term following a conviction for murder in a case motivated by jealousy became the first serving ‘lifer’ to appear in Grand Court for a tariff hearing this week. Acting Justice Alex Henderson heard arguments regarding the case of Tareek Ricketts (25), who was found guilty of killing his ex-girlfriend’s new lover following a trial in 2013. Ricketts was said to have shot Jackson Rainford in the head and chest as he sat with his brother in a parked car in December 2012, when Ricketts was just 21 years old.
The law has changed since his conviction by a jury and his mandatory life term of imprisonment and Henderson will now deliberate on the length of time Ricketts must serve on his life sentence before he could be considered for conditional release.
Under the new legislation, all inmates given a life sentence must also be given a tariff indicating the date at which they can apply for parole. The law does not mean that an inmate will automatically be released at that point but it does mean they can go before the Conditional Release Board and present their case. The law details a starting point of 30 years for a life term but that tariff can be increased or decreased depending on the circumstance of any given case and the aggravating or mitigating factors.
Defence attorneys acting for Ricketts argued that there were no aggravating circumstances in this case and that the starting point of 30 years should not be increased. John Ryder QC, who led the defence team for Ricketts, accepted that his client was convicted on the basis that he shot Rainford in a jealous rage. But the legal team argued that their client’s age at the time was a mitigating circumstance, as at 21 his reaction to the jealousy reflected his immaturity and escalated the situation.
Ryder said his age was a factor in the response of ‘intense jealousy’ and ‘frustration’ to what he perceived as his common-law wife and the mother of his children “running around town with another man”.
Before the killing Ricketts was a man of good character who had a job in the information technology profession and had been providing for and taking care of his two young children. The court heard that although he was recently estranged from the mother of his children at the time of the killing, he was a very hands-on father and his jealous rage was fuelled in part by the fact that his former lover and the children had been with Rainford on the day of the killing.
The crown disputed that position and said there was nothing exceptional about his age as he was an adult and that there should be no reduction. But Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryl Richards QC argued that the use of a gun, which was fired twice, was an aggravating factor that could allow the judge to increase the tariff.
But as he questioned the legal teams on both sides, Justice Henderson queried whether the use of a firearm was in any way exceptional, given that most murder cases in the local court system are down to the use of guns. He said it was probably no coincidence that the starting point tariff which the Legislative Assembly chose for the law is the same as the tariff in the UK for all gun-related killings.
The one issue, however, that gave both legal teams and the judge cause for consideration was the unofficial situation regarding ‘lifers’ that has emerged over the last few years. Despite the imposition of a mandatory full life term for murder, the Governor’s Office had begun to intervene on the issue ahead of the introduction of the Conditional Release Law, paving the way for inmates to make an application to the governor to be considered for parole.
Since 2013, six inmates on mandatory life terms have been released on licence by the parole board following an unofficial process. In each case the inmates were released before serving thirty years. This unofficial system has created an expectation among inmates that despite receiving a full life term, they could, based on their behaviour in prison and the rehabilitation process, be released after around 20 years.
Although the lawyers agreed that this issue does not breach inmates’ human rights under the Constitution, the fairness of the situation had to be a consideration for the judge. Henderson said he agreed that this had created a certain expectation. While legislators may now define a life term as 30 years, the circumstances for those convicted and given life terms before the change in the law had essentially created an exceptional circumstance for all of them.
As the Governor’s Office has released, on the advice of the parole board, some prisoners after much less than 30 years, other lifers had legitimately come to expect that they too could be at least offered the same chance of freedom sooner than the law now provides for.
With six inmates already released after serving terms ranging from just under twenty years at the lower end and around 27 for the longest, the court also heard that at least another two inmates are in the process of being considered for parole. The DPP described the circumstances surrounding these releases as “fluid” and that it had not been in place for a lengthy period. She accepted that the judge would have to consider it as a factor but said the question was the weight he would afford to it.
Justice Henderson said that he would take time to consider the submissions and stated that he would give notice of when he would deliver his decision in open court.
The next hearing for a lifer is set for February, when Trevino Bodden will come before the court regarding his life term for the murder of two brothers in East End in November 2006. Bodden was 20 years old when he killed Bernard Scott and Renold Pearson in East End after a fight on Fiddlers Way.
After that Chakane ‘CJ’ Scott, from East End, the youngest lifer in HMP Northward, will come before the courts. Scott was only 18 years old when he shot and killed his friend, Asher Williams McGaw, in 2011. He was still a teenager when he was convicted in 2012 and received the mandatory life term.