[Press Release] Prime Minister Perry Christie recently declared his full support for hangings and said he would be willing to fight those who oppose the death penalty.
Mr. Christie made the statement at the funeral of Corporal Dion Bowles, the prison officer stabbed to death in a violent prison break last Tuesday.
“I am not in agreement with those who say capital punishment should not be in place,” said Mr. Christie at the service at the Church of God Auditorium on Joe Farrington Road. “I am personally for capital punishment.”
He added, “Prime ministers don’t go around saying things like that, but I want to tell you all that and plenty people do not agree. That is what I believe and as long as I’m prime minister the brothers and sisters who don’t believe it I will fight with them.”
The prime minister was supporting a call for the resumption of hangings made by the overseer of the United Christian Church, Bishop Albert Hepburn.
Bishop Hepburn asked why it is that criminals could be punished for carrying or selling drugs, but murderers are not made to pay the ultimate price for their crimes as stipulated by law.
“It’s on the books,” he told a packed church. “I believe that if it is on the books, that if a man takes somebody’s life his life should be taken. If we fail to do it, (or) if the government fails to do it, then we would look like a hypocritical nation because it’s on the books. If we are not going to carry it out, take it off the books.”
His call came days after Olivia Bowles, the mother of Corporal Bowles, said that those responsible for her son’s death and other death row prisoners should be hanged immediately.
There hasn’t been a hanging in The Bahamas since David Mitchell met his fate at the gallows on January 6, 2000.
The Bahamas hanged 50 men since 1929, according to records kept at Her Majesty’s Prison. Five of them were hanged under the Ingraham administration; 13 were hanged under the 25-year rule of the Pindling government; and the remainder were executed between 1929 and 1967.
Attorney General Alfred Sears has explained that the question of the death penalty cannot be addressed in The Bahamas until the Privy Council in London announces a decision on an appeal filed by two men at Her Majesty’s Prison challenging the mandatory death sentence.
One of the men who is involved in that appeal – Forrester Bowe – was one of the death row inmates who mounted last week’s escape at the prison. The other death row inmate who attempted to get another taste at freedom was Neil Brown, the man convicted of murdering beloved Anglican Archdeacon William Thompson.
Brown was shot and killed during the prison incident.
Trono Davis, another death row inmate, joined Bowe in mounting a constitutional challenge to the mandatory death sentence.
The Privy Council heard their case last month and is expected to soon announce a decision.
Speaking from a legal point of view on Thursday, Prime Minister Christie said that complex issues have arisen that cause every country in the region a great deal of consternation regarding the appeals process.
“It is the courts and high courts who put in place additional processes that cause delay,” the prime minister said.
“Historically, constitutionally, Bishop Hepburn, what is in the book is true, but it’s in the book in England too and the law lords sit in England and they’ve never been here. They listen to the lawyers who speak to them and when they rule they rule constitutionally on behalf of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. I want to tell you…because Bishop Hepburn and myself…we all believe in the same thing.”
The prime minister said that the killing of Corporal Bowles will trigger reforms at the prison.
“This most unfortunate occurrence in our country clearly is a part now of the history of the country,” he said, “and yes, clearly will impact the future of prison services in our country.
“The Government of The Bahamas and the people of The Bahamas will insist upon every effort being made to ensure not just maximum protection at Her Majesty’s Prison…but also in terms of the conditions under which prison officers work.”
Mr. Christie said that uniformed officers who died in the line of duty should not have their country hesitate to give their families at least as much as they would have if they lived a normal life.
“We have been able to put in place and ready for parliament the provision to give you a great deal of the level of comfort you would have as officers, knowing that by the very definition of your work you are placing your life on the line,” he said.
Mr. Christie said parliament will soon focus on the necessary bill to address this and he said it would be retroactive so that the families of fallen officers could benefit.
“The fact that if something happens to any (officer) you can know as you serve that the state will not hesitate because (laws) will be in place to ensure that there is no interruption to the lives of your family,” Mr. Christie said. “That I think is what a country does when its sons and daughters place their lives on the line every day.”
Any man who murders another man, has declared that he does not accept the principle of individual rights. He can then make no claim that killing him is a violation of his rights, as he has abdicated the principle of rights as such. He morally deserves death.
The problem comes applying the death penalty legally in practice. Man is not omnipotent. Juries and judges can — and do — make mistakes. When the courts put an innocent man in jail, they can release him if they later discover that they made an error. However, when the state executes an innocent man, no one can bring him back from the dead. I am no legal expert; but, from a layman’s point of view, I would say to prevent the killing of non-murderers we must make sure that we have absolute proof of the murderer’s guilt through a lengthy judicial process with many appeals. I recommend there at least be a waiting period of *ten years*, or greater, from the time of death sentence until the execution. In regards to the death penalty, a speedy trial — at the expense of justice — is precisely what we do not need.
The principle here is: it is better to let one hundred murderers go free, rather then to execute a single innocent individual. This is because the killing of a murderer is the destruction of evil — from which we gain nothing; the killing of an innocent individual is the destruction of the good — an irreparable loss. Justice’s first purpose is not to punish evil; rather it is to reward the good. The punishment of evil is a corollary of the rewarding of the good.
There is another reason to avoid having a death penalty on the books, and that is to prevent it from being used as a political tool, i.e., for something else besides killing cold blooded murderers. Unfortunately, this is how it is used in statist countries (like Nazi Germany, Cuba, etc.); it is used as a tool for political oppression: obey the state or die. The danger with having a death penalty ‘on the books’, is that it may be broadened if a government goes completely statist, or applied by some stupid politician (an all to common occurrence) acting out of expediency (egged on by the mob).