(CNS): Bryan Roland Powell (37), who was 20 years old in January 2000 when he and Kurt Fabian Ebanks murdered taxi driver Curtis Seymour, has been given the lowest tariff so far for a life sentence under the Conditional Release Law. He and Ebanks stabbed and killed Seymour in a robbery where they took just $63. At the recent tariff hearing, the presiding judge ordered that Powell should serve a minimum of 26 years for his crime. However, the case proved to be particularly challenging under the new law, since his co-defendant, Ebanks, is being dealt with under the old legislation, creating the possibility of significant disparity in the time that the two men will serve for the same crime.
The issue has been compounded by the fact that Powell is suffering from severe mental health problems.
In coming to his decision about Powell’s situation, Justice Alex Henderson, the trial judge who convicted both defendants in 2001, explained that because Ebanks is being treated under an entirely different regime regarding potential release, he had to consider those circumstances in Powell’s case as well.
Ebanks could leave jail well before the 30 year standard life tariff that was established under the Conditional Release Law. The judge therefore had to also ensure that Powell’s sentence was not longer than the time Ebanks will serve, even though it is not known when his co-defendant will be released.
In an effort to ensure there is no significant difference in the sentences, especially given the mitigation that Powell was just 20 at the time of the crime — much younger than Ebanks — and had a far shorter rap sheet, the judge handed down the lowest tariff so far in a conditional release hearing.
Ebanks’ release will be decided by the parole board under the previous legislation; the average time for killers serving mandatory life terms who have been released early on licence under that older regime has been 26 years. It was that yardstick that Henderson used to impose a tariff for Powell.
“It would be manifestly unjust to impose upon Mr Powell a minimum term that necessarily results in a significantly longer term of imprisonment than any Mr Ebanks will serve,” the judge stated. “I consider the need to avoid an unjustified disparity to be an exceptional circumstance, a mitigating factor, and one to which I give considerable weight.”
Powell’s severe mental health problems were also noted by the court as the probable reason why he did not make the same application as Ebanks. But his condition is also cause for concern over his future release, as professionals believe he would pose a danger to society in his current state of health.
Although Powell was not diagnosed with any mental health issues before his trial, following his conviction and after serving about a year in HMP Northward he was diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. He has been treated with anti-psychotic drugs but there has been no improvement over the 15 years since his diagnosis.
Doctors confirmed prior to the conditional release hearing that Powell’s condition “is not amenable to treatment, so the prognosis is very poor”, which the judge noted in his ruling, noting that he would only be released with the agreement of the Conditional Release Board.
Justice Henderson said, “There would need to be a marked improvement in Mr Powell’s mental state, and clear evidence of that before the board could release him. The safety of the public is of paramount concern.”
Powell is one of around two dozen men who have previously been handed mandatory life terms, mostly for murder, before the law was changed to introduce a minimum tariff that defines the length of a life sentence. As a result, the convicted men have begun appearing before the courts in special hearings.
Before Powell’s case the shortest tariff handed down to a serving killer was 28 years.