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Belize reprieves last man on death row

The last man held on death row in Belize was reprieved on Monday, when the Supreme Court of Belize confirmed that its lone, remaining prisoner under sentence of death, Glenford Baptist, now aged 40, would never be executed. His death sentence has been quashed as it was found to be unconstitutional.

Baptist, the subject of a forthcoming Channel 5 documentary, had spent more than 13 years “alternating between hope and despair”, not knowing whether he would live or die.

Baptist was convicted of murder in November 2001 and was sentenced to hang. At the time the death penalty was automatic for homicide offences, although this was replaced a year later by a discretionary regime. The mandatory death penalty has been recognised increasingly worldwide as arbitrary and cruel. Baptist should then have been resentenced by the courts, but he was never afforded the opportunity to have the individual circumstances of his offence, nor any mitigating features considered by a judge and he remained languishing on death row up until this week.

Executing a person who has been under a sentence of death for more than 5 years has also been recognised as unlawful throughout the Caribbean since 1994. The Privy Council, based in London, Belize’s highest court until the country acceded to the Caribbean Court of Justice, was adamant that the “death row phenomenon” in the United States, where a person can spend decades waiting to be executed, should not be the practice in the Caribbean. Baptist’s 13 years on death row clearly amounted to inhuman treatment and this was recognised by the Supreme Court when declaring his death sentence unlawful.

Belize is one of the few remaining countries in South and Central America to retain the death penalty on the statute books. The only other countries who still have the death penalty are Guatemala and Guyana, with Suriname having abolished capital punishment earlier this year. Belize has not carried out an execution since 1985 and it has been 10 years since the last death sentence was imposed. It is hopeful that this Supreme Court decision will encourage Belize to join the growing list of countries around the world to abolish the death penalty altogether.

Baptist is due to be resentenced in October 2015.

Related media articles:

Last and longest serving death row inmate in Belize escapes hangman’s noose“, Caribbean360, 20th July 2015

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