The latest on hangings in the Caribbean: not many! But too many!

I am an American law professor who had the great opportunity in my previous career of having lived and worked in the Caribbean. I have also been against the use of the death penalty in the United States and hope that one day the death penalty will be abolished in the United States as it has been in much of the world. While living and working in the Caribbean, I learned that many of the islands still carry the death penalty for murder. Executions are carried out by hanging. This is a barbaric practice that I would like to see ended.

Since joining the legal academy, I have had the opportunity to monitor legal trends regarding the death penalty in the English-speaking Caribbean. [hereinafter ESC]. The countries that make up the CES are: Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados, Dominica, Bahamas and Suriname. Most Americans don’t realize that there has been a death penalty debate in the ESC for over twenty years about whether the death penalty should be abolished or retained. Nor do most Americans realize that convicted murderers are hanged. The death penalty in the ESC is a holdover from Spanish colonial rule. Ironically, England abolished the death penalty in 1991.

This article is not meant to be a grim report on the specifics of hangings in the English-speaking Caribbean, but a report that should give us hope that, perhaps, one day the death penalty will be abolished in the ESC; and I also hope one day abolished in the United States. In essence, we are now seeing a decrease in ESC hangs, which I consider to be a good trend. Although many travel to the ESC for fun, sun and rum, many of the islands since the late 1990s have suffered from increases in crime and murder rates. Many ESC citizens believe the death penalty is a deterrent to rampant crime and urge their governments to resist the abolition of the death penalty. Unfortunately, studies do not confirm that the death penalty is a deterrent to crime or murder.

Here is my report. I hope it serves as food for thought. Amnesty International and other human rights groups report that more than half of the world’s countries have already abolished the death penalty in law or in practice. Specifically, Amnesty International reported in April 1998 that 63 countries and territories had abolished the death penalty for all crimes, while a further 91 countries, some of which are in the ESC, maintain and use the death penalty. Various human rights groups have denounced what they believe to be a resurgence in the use of the death penalty in some of these ESC nations.

On October 15, 1998, at 8 am, Trevor Fisher, a 28-year-old black citizen of the Bahamas, was hanged inside the walls of Fox Hill Prison in Nassau, Bahamas. An hour later, 51-year-old Richard Woods, also black, followed Fisher to the gallows. Woods was also hanged. Both had been convicted of murder. Prior to the hangings of Fisher and Woods, only two people, Thomas Reckley and Dwayne McKinney, both hanged in 1996, had been executed in the Bahamas since 1984. A local Bahamian newspaper reported that the last double hanging in the Bahamas was the September 6, 1983. , when Lavan Newbold and Colin Evans were executed. Since 1942 there have been five double executions and two triple executions in the Bahamas. The last triple hanging was on January 19, 1980, when Charles Dickenson, Vernal Storr and Winsette Hart were executed.

In June 1999, over a period of three days, Trinidad hanged convicted drug dealer and murderer Dole Chadee and eight of his co-defendants in a murder conspiracy case. These were the first executions in Trinidad since 1994, and only the second since 1979. In July 1999, Trinidad carried out the execution of Anthony Briggs, bringing the total number of executions for the year to ten. All those executed were men. However, an April 1999 Amnesty International report revealed that Trinidad was the only ESC country with women on death row. There were seventy-six men and five women under sentence of death in Trinidad. In that same report it was further revealed that there were seven men on death row in Antigua, twenty-four men on death row in the Bahamas, two men in Barbados, one man in Dominica, twenty-three men in Guyana, eight men in Grenada, forty-three men sentenced to death in Jamaica, three in Saint Kitts and Nevis, nine men in Saint Lucia and three men sentenced to death in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. And then, everything was silent regarding the hangings at the ESC until 2008.

On December 19, 2008, as the small island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis prepared to celebrate Christmas, the prison bells rang in the heart of the capital, Basseterre. Charles Laplace had been hanged that morning for killing his wife five years earlier. This was the first run at CES in eight years. The day before, the United Nations General Assembly had voted 106 nations to 46 in favor of a global moratorium on the death penalty. Contrary to the trend of world opinion, the 12 CES countries maintain the death penalty by statute. These countries constitute a substantial part of the enforcement lobby. However, hangings have been rare of late because most of the twelve ESC nations still retain the Privy Council in London, the judicial wing of the House of Lords, as their court of final appeal. The Privy Council ruled in 1993 that the gap between sentence and execution cannot be more than five years and that successive appeals usually take longer.

So we are seeing fewer hangings in the ESC, let’s hope this barbaric practice ends soon along with an outright abolition of the death penalty in the ESC.

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