It may be the first time in Belize, maybe even in the Caribbean, that Battered Woman Syndrome will form a part of criminal proceedings
The Court of Appeal heard submissions today and new, expert evidence was introduced by attorney Godfrey Smith in the appeal of the murder conviction of Lavern “Anti-Christ” Longsworth, 38, who was convicted of the July 2010 murder of her common-law husband, David White, and is serving a life sentence.
Longsworth will learn her fate on Friday, June 20, when Appeal Justices Dennis Morrison, Samuel Awich and Minnet Hafiz-Bertram convene the court to issue its ruling.
A rule in her favor by the court, based on its acceptance of the new expert evidence which confirms that Longsworth was a victim of “Battered Woman Syndrome,” would result in the overturning of Longsworth’s murder conviction, which would be substituted with the lesser conviction of manslaughter, for which a set prison time could then be imposed.
Longworth’s life sentence was imposed after a jury in the Supreme Court of Justice Adolph Lucas found her guilty of White’s murder in a trial that lasted from October 9 to November 8, 2012.
Attorney Smith managed to adduce the expert evidence of British forensic psychiatrist Dr. Gillian Mezey, an expert on battered women, domestic violence and mental abuse.
Dr. Mezey conducted a series of interviews with Longsworth, at the end of which she diagnosed that Longsworth has been suffering from Battered Woman Syndrome.
Dr. Mezey’s report was completed shortly before Longworth’s appeal was first brought up last March.
Armed with that finding, Smith argued before the court that Longsworth may not have been in full control of her faculties when she committed the murder.
This is the first time that a defense of this nature is being used in a case in the Caribbean region, and it has enormous implications, because if it succeeds, it will set a precedent for the offering of a measure of legal protection to battered women from the consequences of behaviors that are seen as the result of such abuse.
There was no objection to the court’s acceptance of this new evidence from the Director of Public Prosecutions.
According to the expertise of Dr. Mezey, Battered Woman Syndrome was what led Longsworth to douse White with kerosene and set him ablaze. Dr. Mezey’s findings suggest that the Battered Woman Syndrome might have affected Longsworth’s perception, judgment, emotional and behavioral control during her interactions with White.
Dr. Mezey’ s findings are also complemented by those of a local source, psychologist Amy Jex, whose affidavit was accepted as a part of the new evidence, prompting one Appeal Justice to say, before the court formally accepted the affidavits as evidence, “you have us in your hands.”
At the Supreme Court trial, Longsworth relied on the claim of self-defense to beat the murder rap. On the evening of the fatal incident, White went home and allegedly pressured Longsworth into giving him money to buy crack cocaine.
After he had finished smoking the crack, the two of them got into a heated argument and that was when she threw kerosene on him and tossed an already lit candle at him. She would later throw water over him to put out the fire, but he was already badly burned and died a few days later while undergoing treatment at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital.
After the court hearing, Smith told reporters, “This morning, basically, we sought to adduce fresh evidence which was not available at the Supreme Court when Lavern Longsworth was first tried. And that fresh evidence was essentially the professional evidence of psychiatrists and a psychologist to the effect that at the time the offence was committed, Longsworth was suffering from Battered Woman Syndrome, which can be defined as an abnormality of the mind, and which, where it is present would result in what is called diminished responsibility, so that she would not be fully responsible for her actions, and that would result in the reduction of her sentence automatically from murder to manslaughter.”
Smith added, “The court accepted this new fresh evidence, the professional psychiatric reports that Lavern was suffering from Battered Woman Syndrome. The importance of that, beyond what I’ve said about the reduction of sentence, is that it is the first time I believe in Belize, maybe even in the Caribbean where Battered Woman Syndrome will now form a part of the criminal proceedings in relation to its impact on available defenses.”