Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Pitman to serve 40 years


Outside court: Cheryl Pitman, mother of convicted killer Lester Pitman, inset, leaves the Hall of Justice, Port of Spain, yesterday after the Court of Appeal commuted her son’s death sentence to life imprisonment. He has to serve a minimum of 40 years in jail for the 2001 Cascade triple murder. —Photo: AYANNA KINSALE

Mark Fraser

CONVICTED killer Lester Pitman will have to serve at least 40 years in prison before the possibility of being released for committing the triple Cascade murder in 2001.

The Court of Appeal yesterday commuted Pitman’s death sentence to life imprisonment given the sava­gery of the triple murder in which the victims were “hogtied and butchered”.

Chief Justice Ivor Archie deli­vered the judgment at the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain, saying Pitman was of sound mind when he carried out the killings, as opposed to what was being argued by his attorneys. Pitman also never showed any remorse after carrying out the crime, he said.

Also on the three-judge panel were Justices Paula Mae Weekes and Alice Yorke Soo-Hon. Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal appeared on behalf of the State, while Senior Counsel Fyard Hosein and Rajiv Persad appeared for Pitman.

“This was a triple murder involving a home invasion in which the victims were hogtied and but­chered and the appellant (Pitman) and his accomplice spent the next few days casually disposing of the goods stolen from the residence.

“There has been no expression of remorse. He is still a relatively young man, we have taken into account the comments of Dr Maharaj (one of the doctors who testified Pitman was not of sound mind) and, while the likelihood of reform was not explored in any detail, we are leaving open the possibility of release before the end of his life but only after serving a minimum term of 40 years in prison,” said Archie.

Pitman, 33, looked on emotionless as the judgment was handed down.

In 2004, he was sentenced to death alongside Daniel Agard, 29, for the murder of British national John Cropper, 59; his mother-in-law Maggie Lee, 83; and sister-in-law Lynette Lithgow-Pearson, 51, a former BBC television broadcaster who was on vacation in Trinidad at the time of the murder.

The three were killed inside Cropper’s Mt Anne Drive, Second Avenue, Cascade

home sometime between December 11 and 12, 2001.

In 2008, the Privy Council allowed Pitman’s appeal on the basis of new psychiatric evidence which had cast doubt on the legality of the death sentence imposed on both him and Agard.

Agard was again found guilty in September this year and sentenced to hang, while Pitman’s matter was remitted to the Court of Appeal to consider the fresh medical evidence.

On March 4, 2010, Archie, Weekes and Soo-Hon reserved judgment in the matter.

This resulted in Pitman indicating through attorney Criston J Williams in a letter to the Registrar of the Supreme Court earlier this month that he intended to have Chief Justice Archie impeached under Section 137 of the Constitution for “seriously undermining confidence in the administration of justice and the Judiciary” by not delivering the judgment after close to four years.

Another man, Gerard Wilson, 48, had also signalled his intention to have Archie impeached after his appeal judgment was reserved more than four years ago.

Wilson was convicted and sentenced to death for the rape and murder of Esther Vidale, 77, at her house at Erin Road, Siparia, on November 9, 2001.

The Appeal Court yesterday reduced his sentence from life in prison to 30 years’ imprisonment.

During the appeal, Wilson’s attorney, Keith Scotland, argued that at the trial his client had pleaded not guilty to the murder but guilty to the lesser count of manslaughter. This plea, however, was rejected by the State. He argued the trial judge’s summing up of the matter was unbalanced “in that it failed to adequately or at all to deal with the issue of manslaughter, and left the jury in a position where there was no choice but to convict to murder”.

The case against Wilson was that around 12.15 a.m. on the day of the murder, he went to Vidale’s home, where he removed three louvre panes and entered the building, where he proceeded to steal $102.

Upon awakening from sleep and seeing Wilson, Vidale began screaming and, in an attempt to silence her, Wilson gagged and bound her and also tied a bedsheet around her throat and hands before raping her and fleeing the building. Vidale was found dead later in the day.

In delivering the 19-page judgment, Archie said given the period of time Wilson had already spent in custody, the court did not believe a retrial should be ordered, but instead that the murder charge be vacated and substituted by a verdict of guilty of manslaughter.

“...Given the prevalence of both burglary and violent crimes in our society, crimes that involve both violence and home invasion must attract a sentence that, in the view of the court, will serve as a strong deterrent to those who would contemplate committing like offences.

“The rape of an elderly victim is another aggravating feature to be considered in arriving at an appropriate sentence.

“On the other hand, we do take into account the appellant’s willingness to plead guilty to manslaughter at the beginning of his trial, the impulsive nature of the offence and the suggestion, however ambivalent, of some remorse shortly after the killing.

“We are of the view that the maximum sentence of life impri­sonment is not appropriate in these circumstances and that the appropriate sentence is one of 30 years’ imprisonment.

“We take into account that the appellant was awaiting trial for a period of four years and three months and so now impose a sentence of 25 years and nine months to run from the date of conviction,” said Archie.