BELIZE CITY, Mon. Dec. 21, 2015–The longest serving death row inmate at the Belize Central Prison was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment this morning by Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin after he heard mitigation pleas from character witnesses who testified on Friday on behalf of Glenford Baptist, 40, a convicted murderer.
Baptist was convicted of murder in November 2001 for the shooting death of Azrin White, who was gunned down on the night of July 24, 2000, as he was walking with his girlfriend on Iguana Street Extension.
Three men rode up on a bicycle and shot him dead, then, as he fell in the drain, the men rode off.
Baptist was convicted along with his other two co-defendants, Gilroy Wade, Jr., and Oscar Mendez. The court had found that they had acted in a joint enterprise, and all three were sentenced to death by then Supreme Court Justice Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington. Since his sentence, Baptist has been languishing behind bars, unsure of his fate.
This past July, Baptist’s attorney, Priscilla Banner, successfully argued his case before Chief Justice Benjamin, who quashed his death sentence and initially agreed to sentence him in October.
After the hearing in July, Banner explained the basis of her arguments to reporters. Banner had said that the 13 years and 8 months during which Baptist was on death row goes way beyond the five-year precedent that was set in the 1994 Jamaican case of Pratt and Morgan that was decided by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
In Pratt and Morgan v. the Attorney General of Jamaica, the Privy Council held that to hold someone on death row for more than five years constitutes inhumane or degrading treatment and is therefore unconstitutional. The effect of the Pratt and Morgan decision is that a person who has been on death row for more than five years cannot be executed.
Banner also cited the 2002 Reyes V. R case, a Belizean case that was decided by the Privy Council, which had ruled that the automatic death penalty for murder is unconstitutional.
Banner explained in July that, “Essentially, Mr. Baptist was saying to the court, ‘I’ve been held for death row for 13 years and 8 months and I was sentenced automatically to death. Both of those constitute breaches of my fundamental rights, particularly section 7 of the Constitution,’ and he asked the court, pursuant to the courts’ jurisdiction under section 20 of the Constitution, to quash his sentence of death.”
When Baptist’s death sentence was quashed, it caught the attention of the London-based Death Penalty Project, which published an article citing a precedent that had been set since 1994 throughout the Caribbean, that to execute a person who has been on death row for more than five years is unlawful.
“The Privy Council, based in London, Belize’s highest court until the country acceded to the Caribbean Court of Justice, was adamant that the ‘death row phenomenon’ in the United States, where a person can spend decades waiting to be executed, should not be the practice in the Caribbean. Baptist’s 13 years on death row clearly amounted to inhumane treatment and this was recognized by the Supreme Court when declaring his death sentence unlawful,” said the Death Penalty Project in its online article in July when Baptist’s death sentence was reprieved.
Although Belize, Guatemala and Guyana are the only countries in the region which still have the death sentence on their law books, a death sentence has not been carried out in Belize since 1985, and Baptist was the last person on death row in Belize.
Baptist’s prison term is to take effect from the date of his conviction in November 2001. Since he has already spent the past 13 years in prison, Baptist will now have to serve out an additional 12 years.
At today’s hearing, the Crown was represented by Crown Counsels Trina Young and Agassi Finnegan from the Solicitor General’s office, while attorney Iliana Swift held brief for Priscilla Banner, Baptist’s attorney.
Baptist is a father of two children, a son and daughter who were present in court for their father’s sentencing. As he was being led away to begin serving his 12 remaining years, he told his children, “Tell mommy I love her.”