(CNS): Tareek Ricketts (25) has been given a 30-year minimum term on his mandatory life sentence in connection with the murder of Jackson Rainford in 2012 after a judge found no exceptional circumstances to change the sentence norm set out in the new Conditional Release Law. Ricketts, who will be 51-years-old when he can apply for parole, was the first inmate already serving life in Cayman to be given a date for when he can be considered for release on licence under the new law. Justice Alex Henderson, who was the original trial judge in the case, also found the release of ‘lifers’ by the governor over the last three years had not led to any legitimate expectation by Ricketts of a shorter term.
This case was the first of around a dozen life tariffs that the courts must consider over this year to determine the minimum terms that convicted killers must serve before they can apply for release under licence. This is as a result of the implementation of the Conditional Release Law last year that abolished the mandatory whole life term without the opportunity for parole and introduced a 30-year period as a normal minimum life term. But the law also gives discretion to the courts to increase or decrease that time based on exceptional circumstances.
So a judge must now rule on the tariff, or minimum term all convicted killers or others given a life sentence should serve in prison before they can apply for release, but it is not a release date. Whether any prisoner is released or not will be a decision for the Conditional Release Board, and in some circumstances inmates may remain in jail for the rest of their lives. The aim of the law is to provide a goal for those serving ‘life’ to work towards the possibility of parole.
In Ricketts’ case, Justice Henderson determined that, given the circumstances of the murder of Rainford, there were no exceptional circumstances that could allow him to stray from the intent of the law.
The crown had argued in the sentence hearing last month that the use of a firearm, when Ricketts, motivated by jealousy, shot and killed his former girlfriend’s new lover, was an exceptional aggravating circumstance that could increase the tariff. But the judge did not agree. He pointed out that there was nothing uncommon about the use of a gun in killings in Cayman, and that four out of the six lifer tariff cases he will hear involve guns.
But the judge also dismissed defence arguments that Ricketts was young and immature at the time of the killing, and at 21 years old, his age should be considered a mitigating exceptional circumstance. Justice Henderson found that there was nothing specifically immature about Ricketts, who had a good job and took care of his children.
The judge also set what is now likely to be an important precedent for other ‘lifers’ awaiting tariffs regarding the practice of the governor’s office, before the advent of the Conditional Release Law, to release some lifers from jail before they had served 30 years. Six men serving mandatory whole life sentences have been released since 2013 by the governor.
They were released after serving between 22 and 29 years — an average of just over 26 years. But the judge said that the first release was not until 2013, which was after Ricketts was convicted. Two others were released prior to the Conditional Release Law being passed and another three after. The judge said that no pattern had been established that could lead to a legitimate expectation on the part of Ricketts that he would be released early.
“The number of released prisoners is too small and the time is too short to permit a reasonable conclusion that a new policy had become entrenched and would necessarily be followed by successive governors, who are replaced every three to four years,” the judge stated. “A pattern had not yet emerged.”
Justice Henderson also pointed out that there is no evidence that anyone in authority had ever suggested to Ricketts when he received a whole life sentence, before the passage of the law, that he would be released at any particular point in time. While the judge had said Ricketts might have entertained the hope of early release, there was not enough evidence to justify a legitimate expectation.
With no other circumstances to consider, the judge ruled that the one-time computer technician from George Town would serve the 30-year minimum term set out in the law, with time on remand, since his arrest taken into consideration.
Ricketts will not be able to apply for consideration of early release by the Conditional Release Board until December 2042, when he will be 51 years old. This will not be an automatic release but merely the first point when it could be considered if he meets the rehabilitation criteria and expectations of those who will be serving on the board 25 years in the future.