Ex-death-row inmate left with 11-year sentence for 2002 murder

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Justice Alice Yorke-Soo Hon.

A former death-row inmate has had some success in his appeal of his sentence, even though the length of time he has to serve remains unchanged.

Ronald John appealed the 2019 resentencing of Justice Carla Brown-Antoine. On Wednesday, Justices of Appeal Alice Yorke-Soo Hon, Gregory Smith and Malcolm Holdip allowed a variation of his sentence, while allowing his appeal.

In 2006, John was convicted of murdering Kenneth Boxie at a recreation club in Palmyra Village, San Fernando, on November 27, 2002. He appealed his conviction, which was dismissed by the Appeal Court in 2007, and again in 2009 by the Privy Council.

In 2017, he filed a constitutional motion after there was a change in the law involving the mandatory sentence for felony murder cases. Previously, felony murder carried a sentence of death, but that changed in 2011, with a Privy Council ruling that the mandatory imposition of a death sentence for felony murder in Trinidad and Tobago was unconstitutional.

In ruling that the death sentence imposed on him was unconstitutional, Justice Carol Gobin sent his case to the Assizes (the criminal division of the High Court) for resentencing. Before being resentenced before Brown-Antoine, John remained on death row for ten months before Gobin was forced to order his immediate removal from the condemned section of the prison.

In resentencing him, Brown-Antoine started with a 30-year sentence, to which the defence and prosecution agreed, and applied a one-year reduction for his good character and a further 18 years for the time he spent in custody. John was left with a sentence of 11 years to serve.

Even after the variations allowed by the Appeal Court judges on Wednesday, John remained with an 11-year sentence, which runs from March 20, 2019, when Brown-Antoine sentenced him.

In their ruling, the judges said the 30-year starting point was appropriate, so John’s appeal on that ground was without merit.

John received an additional six-month discount from the appeal court for his good behaviour while in prison, and while agreeing that a bio-social report from the prison is beneficial for sentencing judges, in John’s case, the judges said it would have little or no assistance in the sentencing process, since, as a death-row inmate, he would not have been allowed to engage in any activities in the prison system designed to rehabilitate prisoners.

The judges found Brown-Antoine was “overly generous” in her “rounded-off” discount of the extra time he spent on death row and the time he spent in prison. But they reduced John’s sentence, leaving him with the 11-year sentence he originally received in 2019.

The oral decision was delivered by Holdip.

John was represented by public defender Adaphia Trancuso-Ribeiro. Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Sabrina Dougdeen-Jaglal represented the State.