There is a saying that if one does the crime one should do the time. However, consistently, people who do the crime try to avoid doing the time. We see people who kill going to court and refusing to plead guilty to murder but guilty to the lesser count of manslaughter.
Murder is a premeditated act. A man becomes angry for whatever reason and plans to kill. He executes the plan then tells the court that the killing was not intentional. More often than not the state would accept the lesser plea to save time.
In certain cases, the judge must weigh in his mind the evidence and impose a sentence that he thinks is appropriate. Some of the men who slaughtered families at Bartica and at Lusignan readily pleaded guilty and got hefty sentences.
Others got relatively light sentences, as was the case of the woman who killed her best friend in a drunken rage. She was sentenced to eight years in jail but recently walked out of prison after serving less than two years of her sentence.
There was the case of a man, who as a teen, went on a robbery spree. During one of the robberies he killed a man. He also shot and killed his accomplice because the accomplice called his name.
At sentencing the judge took into consideration that Guyana was no longer hanging people. At the same time, the law was modified to give judges the discretion to impose a sentence other than the death penalty.
This young man was sentenced to seventy-eight years in jail. Some thought that the sentence was excessive and that the courts were creating conditions for a geriatric population in the prison system. Society sat and pondered the implications of the opposition to very harsh sentences.
There was the argument that the death penalty was not really a deterrent although many disagreed. One basic argument was that once killed by the state, the person would never kill another human being. But human rights advocates contended that the killer also had rights; that was until someone killed one of their relatives.
The man who was sentenced to seventy-eight years appealed his sentence and got the Court of Appeal to order a re-trial. That matter is ongoing, because this past week lawyers for the accused successfully argued for a halt in the trial.
However, the system allows for parole. The criminal is given a chance to appeal to a panel for early release. Last month two men who had their death warrants read to them walked out of the prison, one after serving thirty-four calendar years and another after serving thirty-one calendar years.
Both admitted to the crimes and placed themselves at the mercy of the parole board. One was Muntaz Ali who with Terrence Sahadeo and the now dead Shireen Khan, killed a teenaged girl in her home during a daytime robbery.
A constitutional challenge spared both Ali and Sahadeo from the gallows. Shireen Khan died in prison, but Ali and Sahadeo remained behind bars. Their sentences had already been commuted to life in prison. Ali went before the parole board at the age of fifty-three having gone into jail as a nineteen-year old.
He confessed his sins before the board and was released leaving his best years behind him in prison. He is now seriously ill and aged more than if he had been living outside the jail walls.
Then there is Noel Thomas who but for a near fatal decision, could have been outside nearly two decades ago. He was convicted for killing a man at the request of the man’s brother. For that he was paid one hundred dollars way back in 1987. At today’s rate of exchange that sum was equal to US$16.
Thomas is one month shy of 60 but looks older. He missed the gallows by four days. Over the years he has had the support of family. As could be understood he lost his wife and never saw his children until years later. I spoke with him a few times while he was behind bars and I propose to seek an interview with him. He has a lot to talk about.
He can talk about the mood in the prison when men were led to the gallows. He can talk about the long hours on Death Row each day. But most pleasant would be his first taste of freedom, his first night in a bed, and the changes he has seen in the free world.
There are others whose parole is being questioned. Some have been held with drugs and some for gun possession. These are serious charges and I wonder whether a message is not being sent to the judges who preside over the cases.
For example, there was the case of an appellant whose sentence was cut by half, from seventy-plus to thirty-eight.
I always say that a man’s greatest gift is his freedom. Man was born to be free, to wander and to make decisions on his own. However, if he chooses to take risks that could curtail his freedom then there should be no intervention when it is time for him to pay for his misdemeanor.
There are people in prison who are incorrigible. One man spent time in jail awaiting trial for a mass killing. He was released having been found not guilty of the charge. Four days later he went with another individual and shot a man to death to satisfy a vendetta.
He must be made to sleep and to face each day with his violence. He must also face whatever sentence is imposed, but there are humanitarians in the society who, after a few years, would have a change of heart and release him back into society.
A man rides recklessly without a licence or any safety equipment. He crashes and kills his wife who was the pillion rider. He is sentenced to two years in jail and has people rushing to have the sentence reversed. Life, I suppose, is like that.
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