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Lavern Longsworth

  • D.O.B: 27 September 1974
  • Belize
  • Domestic abuse; mental health

In 2014 Lavern Longsworth, a victim of domestic abuse who killed her partner, became the first woman in Belize to have her murder conviction quashed after the court accepted she was suffering from Battered Woman Syndrome.

Lavern's story

Lavern, a mother of three and carer to her disabled son, had killed her abusive husband during an argument at their shared home.  Fearing attack from her partner, who was armed with a knife, Lavern threw gasoline over him and set him alight. He died of his injuries in hospital 18 days later and Lavern was charged with his murder. She did not receive any mental health assessment at the time of her trial, despite evidence of a long history of abuse suffered at the hands of her husband. The trial court judge found Lavern guilty of murder and sentenced her to life imprisonment.

The Death Penalty Project became involved in the case in 2013, assisting Lavern’s lawyers in appealing her conviction and sentence to the Court of Appeal in Belize. We sent a UK psychiatrist to visit Lavern in Belize Central Prison and make a psychiatric assessment. Lavern was found to have been suffering from Battered Woman Syndrome at the time of the offence, experiencing heightened levels of fear towards her husband as well as feelings of guilt and self-loathing, as a result of years of physical and emotional abuse.

The psychiatric report was submitted to the Court of Appeal as fresh evidence. In its judgment delivered November 2014, the Court accepted that Lavern could not be found truly responsible for her actions, due to her altered mental state. Lavern’s murder conviction was overturned and replaced with a charge of manslaughter. She was re-sentenced from life imprisonment to a term of eight years imprisonment. Taking into account the time she had already served and her good behaviour, Lavern was released in December 2016, after six years in prison.

Precedent established

Lavern’s case was the first instance of a court in Belize accepting Battered Woman Syndrome as part of a defence to murder. It established a legal precedent that has since allowed other women in similar situations to challenge their murder convictions.

One such prisoner is Veola Pook, another victim of domestic abuse who had killed her husband. We helped Veola appeal her murder conviction, which was also overturned after she was found to be suffering from Battered Woman Syndrome. Veola was released from prison in 2015.

Case Timeline

  1. Lavern throws kerosene over her husband, who dies of his injuries two weeks later

  2. Lavern is tried for murder

  3. Lavern is sentenced to life imprisonment

  4. The Death Penalty Project becomes involved in the case

  5. Lavern’s murder conviction is overturned by the Court of Appeal and substituted with manslaughter. She is sentenced to eight years imprisonment.

  6. Lavern is released from prison

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