By ADRIAN GIBSON
While many Bahamians know that David Mitchell was the last convicted murderer hanged in the Bahamas, in the year 2000, the most memorable hanging for me was that of Thomas Reckley, who was hanged in 1996. To this day, I can vividly recall listening closely to the radio (ZNS’s 7.30 am newscast) that morning, before heading off to school in Long Island. Frankly, it appeared that for a few days thereafter, an unruffled calm seemed to blanket the nation and for a few days, the criminality took a hit.
According to the records of Her Majesty’s Prison, there have been 50 hangings since 1929. Of the inmates hanged, five were hanged under the Ingraham administration, 13 under the Pindling regime and the others were hanged between 1929 and 1967. Thus far, there have been no hangings under both Christie administrations, perhaps due in large part to the positions taken by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC), a lack of political will and a molasses-like court system where even murder cases could hang in the balance for 10 to 20 years.
Death row in the Bahamas is ghostly, eerily empty when one considers the spate of murders, hundreds of lost souls, in the last 10-20 years. In that same period of time, the JCPC has made a number of critical decisions relative to the death penalty. As a result of these decisions, many death row inmates at Her Majesty’s Prison in Fox Hill had their sentences overturned or reduced and/or commuted to life in prison.
In 1993, the Privy Council ruled in the Jamaican case Pratt (Earl) and Morgan (Ivan) that prisoners who had waited for more than five years on death row were subject to cruelty and inhumane conditions. This means that a lot of local inmates of death row appealed their sentences based on this judicial precedent and had their sentences commuted to life in prison. Moreover, it also means that the State, with our sluggish and sometimes chaotic court system, often runs out of time as the five year timeframe for executions—set down by Pratt and Morgan—usually expires before the legal/appeals process is exhausted. There has also been in my view a lax approach to reading the death warrants of convicted killers, which would force them to expedite their appeals rather than waiting for the five-year period to run out before appealing.
Two years ago, convicted murderer Maxo Tido had his sentence quashed, with the Privy Council ruling that his killing of a 16 year old did not fall into the category of “worst of the worst” or “rarest of the rare.” In another ruling in 2006, the Privy Council rejected mandatory death sentences; Tido’s sentence was made by a judge using discretion after the JCPC’s 2006 ruling and, here again, the JCPC is thought to have ‘moved the goal post’ by seemingly varying that earlier ruling in preference for categorising murders for which the death penalty should be applied. In 2011, Parliament itself passed legislation that set out the different categories of murder, highlighting which categories carried the death penalty as the requisite punishment. Combined, these measures have all reduced the likelihood of capital punishment being carried out in the Bahamas although a swifter moving justice system, in my opinion, can perhaps render such sentences (particularly when one considers the heinous nature of crimes, which have become sadistic and were once, as the JCPC terms it, the rarest of the rare in this country).
Indeed, there has been a demand for the resumption of capital punishment with support from the church, the community at large and the Leader of the Opposition Dr Hubert Minnis.
Capital punishment is very much on the menu of preferred punishments for Bahamians. I support capital punishment; however, I believe that if hanging is considered barbaric, the Bahamas should introduce new measures, for example lethal injection, to ensure its application.
Honestly, my inquiring mind has always wanted to know the identity of the executioner? How did they get a condemned inmate to walk to the trap door, rope around neck, knowing that they will fall to their deaths? I wanted to know more about those last hours for a convicted killer, sitting in a prison cell next to the execution chamber? I even inquired about the state of a condemned prisoner once hanged, that is, their physical appearance thereafter and I was told stories about their tongues hanging out of their heads, etc. In fact, over the years, I have satisfied some of my curiosities by questioning and speaking to a number of police and prison officers who have personally witnessed hangings.
I’ve always wondered about the death certificates for executed inmates and what is stated as the cause of death. Is it listed as a homicide, since none of the other causes (natural or accidental) applies?
In an interview with cardiovascular surgeon Dr Duane Sands, he said:
“I support hanging. It is cheaper to hang them than it is to store them for life in Fox Hill Prison. As long as the law says one is sentenced to hang, just hang! If he stabs another inmate or prison officer, what is it that he could lose, what can you do to him if he’s already on death row but simply not being hanged? The prison environment has no potential for rehabilitation. As long as the Privy Council is in place, we will never hang another inmate, due to their liberal interpretation of the law which shows that they believe that it is contrary to civil society. Many of those concerned about their appearances in intellectual circles wouldn’t agree to hanging.
“Do we equate hangings with state killings like lethal injection, which some would say is more humane? In Texas, convicted killers are executed on a regular basis. The case can be made for terminating the life of a villain,” Dr Sands said.
So, why does the State change from hanging death row inmates to lethal injection? Well, considering the polarised and divisive political/social climate, I would not expect a reasonable, bipartisan debate and/or collaboration about such a change, just as there hasn’t been such a discourse about gambling, abortion, stem cell research and national health insurance. For some reason, the political directorate and societal stakeholders don’t appear to be capable of weighing the pros and cons and of discussing pertinent matters dispassionately so as to attempt to move our country significantly ahead. It always becomes emotive and politicised.
As Bahamians, it appears that we have not yet learned to discuss important national issues among ourselves. This is brought home by the poor quality of debates in the House of Assembly, though there are a few exceptions to the rule who are like a breath of fresh air. The Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament are setting a poor example for the masses relative to settling differences of opinion and conflict resolution. In those chambers, style and substance have been replaced with a notion by some that they would bludgeon others with the weight of their bombastic, pompous pontificating. In the Bahamas, Bahamians appear to equate great debating skills with political loudmouths and trash talkers, as opposed to someone who would constructively dissect an issue.
“We have little value for constructive thinkers in the House of Assembly, relative to capital punishment or any other issue. As a matter of fact, such a person is said to be a punk or too educated or too intellectual,” Dr Sands said.
While we can all call upon the government to commence capital punishment, a number of factors must be addressed, beginning with the judicial system and legislative reforms.
While I’m at it, let me commend Minister of National Security Dr Bernard Nottage and Minister of State for National Security Keith Bell (the brains and tactician behind the operation) for their amped up approach to combating violent crime and for the new initiatives being undertaken. There are those who have proceeded to criticise these initiatives before they have taken hold and that is politically immature and does not progress our country. I applaud both men for this recent effort as the spate of violent crime is troubling and has reduced the perception of our nation among our neighbouring countries and those faraway.
DESMOND BANNISTER’S RESIGNATION AND POSSIBLE REPLACEMENTS
Former Minister of Education Desmond Bannister is the consummate gentleman and indeed a statesman whom I have found to be as cool as a cucumber in his deportment. Mr Bannister’s tenure as an MP and cabinet minister resulted in him being seen as one of the more effective legislators and education ministers in recent history. At the Ministry of Education, he was able to restore a level of credibility to a ministry that was under siege, particularly as it related to matters of tremendous parental concern. What’s more, he kept it real and had the courage to point out the inherent challenge of participating as a legislator when the remuneration was simply not competitive though, unfortunately, he (and others such as Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell) was unable to galvanise public support for these pay raises. Unlike the Americans, the Bahamian public seems contented with elected officials serving part-time and having to rely on other sources of income to survive.
Mr Bannister has, in the past, expressed a disappointment with the reality of political life in the Bahamas, i.e. he seemingly believes that honourable men and women find the blood sport of politics to be unpalatable.
Indeed, he is a lawyer with a growing firm and, while he has sacrificed to serve his country, he also has a commitment to his family, legal practice and his clients. Frankly, he has contributed mightily to the critical thinking and intellectual and political development of younger senators as well as to many who have interacted with him (including myself). His exit from the political stage, if only for this period, is a huge national loss as he strived to deepen our national discourse.
That said, as FNM leader Dr Hubert Minnis mulls over his replacement, whomever is appointed the next senator will give tremendous insight into the vision, strategic thinking and planning capacity of the Leader of the Opposition. Dr Minnis is also evolving into a political tactician and undoubtedly he is carefully weighing his options.
If I had to consider a list of five potential candidates to be appointed as the next senator, I would have to discount former Central and South Eleuthera candidate Howard Johnson, who I find to be a likeable chap, due only to his schooling and current residential status in the United States.
That said, my potential nominees would be...
Former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham! Yes, I said it. If Dr Minnis could convince the former Prime Minister to agree to return to lead the Senatorial team, that would be a total game changer and set tongues wagging for the next hundred years.
Dr Duane Sands said that while attempting to lure Mr Ingraham back on to the frontlines would be “fascinating for discussion”, “I don’t know if he can be convinced to return and, moreover, the problem would be the perception that he is now becoming another Stephen Seymour (Assistant Commissioner of Police) in the FNM.”
While convincing Mr Ingraham to join the Senatorial team would be a masterful stroke on the part of Dr Minnis, he has such an epic presence that many people would start looking to the senator for answers and it could give the perception that he is ultimately running things behind the scenes. That said, Ingraham returning to the frontlines in this fashion would be comparable to Fantasy Football—this would be a big move in Fantasy Politics!
Pakeisha Parker is one of a handful of female candidates who earned a re-nomination in the next general election. She speaks well, is gregarious and could perhaps bolster the FNM’s senatorial team.
Bran McCartney. Yes, that’s right! Bran’s joining of the FNM’s team in the senate would amount to a political coup d’état while potentially also resolving the rift and differences in agenda between the DNA and the FNM.
Dr Duane Sands, the FNM’s Deputy Chairman, would also be a noteworthy candidate for the senate post. He told me that he would “gladly accept the post.”
“I’m prepared to assist and perform wherever called upon in order to pursue the development of this country through the FNM. In whatever capacity I am asked to serve, I will. This government, led but not controlled by Perry Gladstone Christie, is the greatest risk to the welfare of the Bahamas in 2013,” he said.
Rodney Moncur, in my opinion, would be a worthy selection as the next FNM senator. Whether you like him or not, and whether you agree with his stance or not, nobody can question his commitment to this country. He serves as our conscience and he is forcing us, in caricature form, to look at who we are and what we are doing.
“The Negro News Network, which has a following as meteoric as CNN, uses repetitive language that has been proven to resonate with the soul. So when he speaks about the negro male or a negro police officer, we are forced to acknowledge, for the first time in many years, the peculiar bond that holds many Bahamians together. We are reminded on a daily basis of the problems that we have created as a nation. He makes it all inclusive by including the Caucasian Bahamian in his network. He takes it out of any politically correct speaking and makes it real. So God help us if we have someone in the Senate who will speak candidly, honestly and openly every time he has an opportunity. However, it would take a huge set of balls to make that move,” Dr Sands said.
While former Sea Breeze MP Carl Bethel would not be in my top five, I have heard his name bandied about in both political circles, PLP and FNM, as a potential replacement for Desmond Bannister. Indeed, Bethel is intellectually stellar and has an extensive historical recall. He has been a part of the FNM since he was attached to the umbilical cord; however, like Darth Vader who went to the ‘dark side’ of The Force in the ‘Star Wars’ movies, Carl Bethel has lost his way and yet lacks the insight to realise that. He is a formidable politician who would perhaps make a good senator, but the benefits that would accrue would more likely come to him than to the FNM in the long run.
Yes, in the Senate Carl Bethel would rattle the political cage and prove to be an intimidating pit bull with a sharp legal mind. But, he is also perceived, I believe, as arrogant and someone who views politics as a game.
The selection process will be interesting and one waits to see who will emerge...