Skip to main content arrow-down arrow-tail-right arrow-triangle-right calendar camera compass download email eye facebook flag mail phone pin play send square-right tag twitter youtube badge message

Reprieve for Battered Woman Who Killed Husband

  • News
  • 3 Jul 2014

A woman from Belize has been cleared of murder after setting alight her partner, in response to years of his physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

In July 2010, Lavern Longsworth threw kerosene and a candle over David White at their home in Belize City, because she feared he was going to attack her. White died in hospital from his burns two weeks later.

British psychiatrist Dr Gillian Mezey, who travelled to Belize to examine Longsworth, said that Longsworth would have had a heightened sense of fear of White, on account of the long-term abuse that she had suffered. On the night in question, Longsworth would have effectively re-lived earlier experiences and would have had difficulty controlling herself against any perceived threat from him.

Longsworth was originally convicted of murder during a jury trial in November 2012. But the Court of Appeal in Belize recognized that the fresh evidence of Dr Mezey showed that Longsworth was suffering from Battered Woman Syndrome at the time of the killing, meaning that both her emotional and behavioural responses would have been affected by the repeated abuse.

Her life sentence for murder was overturned and she was sentenced to eight years imprisonment instead for manslaughter.

It is more than 20 years since Kiranjit Aluwahlia, the subject of the British film Provoked, first brought Battered Woman Syndrome into the British courtroom, in remarkably similar circumstances. Aluwahlia was convicted of burning her husband to death using a mixture of caustic soda and petrol in 1989. Supporters of Aluwahlia campaigned for change so that women who kill as a result of severe domestic violence are not treated as murderers.

It is thought, however, that this is the first time that Battered Woman Syndrome has been used in the Caribbean region as part of a defence to murder.

Former Attorney-General of Belize, Godfrey Smith SC, said the decision had helped “open the way for Battered Woman Syndrome to be used as a critical part of an accused woman’s defence in Belize”.

Godfrey Smith and Leslie Mendez, Belizean attorney-at-law, were aided by London based organisation the Death Penalty Project, which became involved after it feared a miscarriage of justice had taken place.

Barrister Amanda Clift-Matthews was instructed pro bono to assist.

Read Summary judgment

 

Update

“Battered woman who killed her husband released from prison in Belize”, 27 April 2017

Latest news

Moving Away From the Death Penalty in Guyana
Read More
Why John Hayes MP is so wrong on the death penalty
Read More
Malaysia could lead way in abolishing death penalty
Read More
Launch of new resource: ‘Sentencing in Capital Cases’
Read More
Juvenile offender released in Belize after Caribbean Court of Justice quashes murder conviction
Read More
DPP returns to Taiwan with Keir Starmer QC MP
Read More
Moving away from the mandatory death penalty
Read More
Keir Starmer visits Taiwan to lobby against death penalty
Read More
New project will seek to build movement for abolition of the death penalty in Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean States
Read More
Simons Muirhead and Burton LLP recognised for its commitment to The Death Penalty Project
Read More
Sajid Javid has betrayed our values by giving way on the death penalty
Read More
Caribbean Court of Justice strikes down mandatory death penalty in Barbados
Read More
Moving away from the death penalty in Zimbabwe - has the time come for change?
Read More
New opinion study shows Zimbabwean public ready to accept death penalty abolition
Read More
All prisoners serving life sentence in Belize to be re-sentenced following major decision of the Caribbean Court of Justice
Read More
Split Decision (Private Eye on the JCPC's judgment in Jay Chandler)
Read More
UK judges uphold death sentence of Trinidad prisoner despite him “more likely than not” having serious mental illness
Read More

Stay up-to-date with our work