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

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, 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.

A 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

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