Death sentence has been quashed in the case of Neil Hernandez by the Trinidad Court of Appeal, on account of inordinate delay in their execution.
Mr Hernandez was, instead, sentenced to two terms of life imprisonment for a double murder, of which he shall serve minimums of 25 years.
The Court of Appeal, however, denied that the execution of a person with mental retardation amounted to cruel and unusual punishment and thus breached fundamental human rights – as has been held in other countries that maintain the death penalty, including the United States. Instead, the Court said that it was a matter for the legislature to determine whether the mentally retarded should be spared capital punishment.
Trinidad and Tobago is also one of the few jurisdictions in the Caribbean for which a mandatory death penalty for murder remains lawful.
Neuropsychological evidence from Dr Alistair Gray, instructed pro bono by the Death Penalty Project and accepted by the Court, showed that Mr Hernandez possessed an IQ of 57, which placed him in the World Health Organisation’s classification of mental retardation.
The Death Penalty Project had previously filed a petition on Mr Hernandez’s behalf before the Privy Council, which, in 2008 remitted Mr Hernandez’s case back to the Trinidad Court of Appeal to consider whether his sentence was compatible with the Trinidad Constitution.
Nonetheless, the Court could not resile from clear authority that there was an unacceptable lapse of time, amounting to over 9 years, during which Mr Hernandez had been waiting execution and thus, if his sentence were now to be carried out, it would amount to cruel and unusual punishment.
Martin Evans of 33 Chancery Lane and Dominic Lewis assisted local counsel in this matter.
The full judgment can be read here.