The death sentence formerly imposed on Lester Pitman has been commuted by the Trinidad Court of Appeal, but he has been ordered to serve a life term with a minimum of 40 years.
The Court of Appeal delivered its decision nearly 4 years after the matter was heard – a delay which the Court itself acknowledged was unacceptable.
The Death Penalty Project previously assisted Mr Pitman with his proceedings before the Privy Council, which, in March 2008, allowed his appeal against conviction and remitted the case back to the Court of Appeal for it to review fresh evidence that Mr Pitman might not have been fit to plead, or alternatively, should have had the defence of diminished responsibility open to him. (See further details here)
Evidence presented to the Court of Appeal in March 2010 by doctors Professor Michael Kopleman and Dr Jessica Bramham showed that Mr Pitman possessed a low IQ and as a result, suffered significant cognitive impairment. This evidence, therefore, questioned whether Mr Pitman was able to properly comprehend proceedings, or whether his arrested development was such that he was not fully responsible for the killing.
Although the Court accepted the evidence that Mr Pitman possessed an IQ below 70, it found that he was nonetheless able to participate in his trial, and that his responsibility was not substantially diminished for the offence.
However, given that Mr Pitman had spent more than 5 years on death row after he was first sentenced, the Court of Appeal acknowledged that no death sentence could now be imposed upon him and a life term was substituted.
Edward Fitzgerald QC and Alison MacDonald were instructed pro bono on behalf of Mr Pitman before the Privy Council, and assisted local counsel before the Court of Appeal. Dr Kopelman and Dr Bramham were also instructed pro bono to carry out assessments of Mr Pitman and to provide medical evidence to the Courts.
Read the full judgment.