By Linda Straker
ST. GEORGE’S, Grenada, June 28, 2007 – “I feel good to be out” were their first words uttered as three of the Grenada 13 were yesterday released, stepping out of the Richmond Hill gate at 4:25pm and into the hands of the lawyers that pleaded for their release.
“Welcome” was the reply from Edward Fitzgerald and Keith Scotland as they embraced and shook hands with Lester Redhead, Cecil Prime and Christopher Stroude.
Justice Francis Belle on Wednesday morning ordered the immediate release of the three after listening to seven days of mitigation submissions from the prosecution and the defense.
Six months after three of the famous Grenadian 17 prisoners were released, three said good bye to the walls of the prison leaving behind ten colleagues whom they were jointly charged with for killing Maurice Bishop and others on October 19th 1983.
Justice Francis Belle handed down judgment in the re-sentencing of the Grenada 13 after listening to seven days of mitigation submissions from the defense and the crown. In his 15 minute ruling, he said that both the Crown and the Defense had strong mitigating factors but it was his opinion that the group was no longer a threat to the community.
“I don’t agree with the prosecution that they are a future risk to the community,” he said while expressing his disappointment that the Crown never sought to undertake a psychological assessment of the prisoners if in their opinion it would be a risk to society to free them.
He agreed with the defense that the commuting of the death sentence to life imprisonment in 1991 was unlawful. “The action of the State violated the Constitutional rights of the prisoners especially when they had the near death experience of being hanged,” he said. Describing the October tragedy as the worst incident in the region with regards to mass murders, Belle said that it is his belief that although the crime was heinous the prisoners as a group had shown remorse.
Belle further pointed that based on the evidence, the killings were not a premeditated act but one which occurred as a result of civil strife.
Asking the prisoners to stand, the Judge called each prisoner by name and read to them the amount of years he is recommending that they spend behind bars. Explaining that the prosecution should discount the 24 years already spent in jail he further recommended that consideration should be given to the three years spent on remand.
Cecil Prime, Lester Redhead and Christopher Stroude received 30 years and the ten others received 40 years each. This meant that the three were to be immediately released from prison and the others will be released in two years and eight months.
Belle further recommended that the health of John Ventour and Colville McBarnette should be reviewed by the Prison Board in six and twelve months respectively. They are both suffering from cancer. With regards to Hudson Austin, he said that the Crown can consider remission for the time he assisted in rebuilding the prison in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan.
Lead counsel of the 13, Edward Fitzgerald expressed his satisfaction with the re-sentencing while the DDP said that the judge was “lenient.”
The judge departed immediately after delivering his sentence.
It was an emotional reunion as tears were seen on the faces of family members who came to welcome them home. “My son is free again, he is out,” said the mother of Redhead, who had waited more than five hours outside of the prison gate.
They all gave the assurance that they will spend time with families and friends as they open another chapter in rebuilding their lives. “I will be spending time with my daughter,” said Prime as he hugged and kissed the child who was two when he was incarcerated.
Handed a cellular phone, Stroude told the person on the other end, “It’s good to be free again, we will see later.” While Redhead embraced family members and friends who had come to greet their comrade.
At one point during the evening, lawyers for the men complained that prison officials were refusing to release them until a telephone call was received from the office of the attorney general.
“We don’t understand why the attorney general’s office became involved, a judge gave an order and the Office of the Attorney General cannot act like an appeal court and to stop the process…that office has no power to stop a court order,” said Ruggles Ferguson when the media inquired about the long wait.
“The judge gave an order and all the normal procedure was followed, but now the attorney general is holding up the release. This is contempt of court…it is contempt and we cannot allow the attorney general to dictate. Where is the separation of powers?” added lawyer Ashley Bernadine.
The men were released shortly after the lawyers complained. (Copyright Hardbeatnews.com)