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Bahamas: Death penalty: John Higgs

, Index number: AMR 14/002/1997

John Higgs has been read a warrant for his execution to be carried out on 29 July 1997 at 8am local time.

EXTERNAL AI Index: AMR 14/02/97
EXTRA 106/97 Death Penalty 21 July 1997
The Ministry of National Security in the Bahamas has announced that John Higgs,
a prisoner on death row in the Bahamas, has been read a death warrant for his
execution to be carried out on Tuesday 29 July at 8a.m. local time. The death
warrant was issued despite the fact that the Court of Appeal in the Bahamas
has not yet given its reasons for rejecting John Higgs’ appeal against his
conviction for murder. Furthermore, the prisoner has not yet been able to apply
for leave to appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) in
London, the final court of appeal for the Bahamas, and so has not exhausted
all avenues of appeal.
John Higgs was first sentenced to death, for the murder of his wife, in October
1995. On appeal, however, it was ruled that his first trial had been unfair,
because the judge had become too involved in the trial. A re-trial was ordered,
and held in August 1996, and John Higgs was found guilty and sentenced to death
again. The appeal of this conviction was turned down in May of this year. However,
the reasons for the rejection of the appeal have not yet been given. This means
that lawyers are not able to examine the Appeal Court’s decision and thus
determine what grounds there might be for an appeal to the JCPC.
The Bahamas resumed executions after a 12-year break with the hanging of Thomas
Reckley on 13 March 1996. Approximately two weeks after Thomas Reckley's
execution Dwayne McKinney became the second person to be hanged in the country
since 1984. There are currently believed to be 38 people on death row in the
In October 1996 the JCPC allowed appeals by two death row prisoners from the
Bahamas, Ricardo Farrington and Dwight Henfield, commuting their death
sentences to life imprisonment. In its ruling the Committee concluded, in the
case of the Bahamas, "taking into account an appropriate period of time for
the domestic appeals available to condemned men in their own interest, that
a period of years in prison awaiting execution, with all the agony of mind
which that entails, would in all the circumstances be so prolonged a time as
to render execution cruel or inhuman punishment." They thus set a guideline
of 3½ years within which the appeal process in the Bahamas would be expected
to be completed.
Following this ruling, the Government of the Bahamas announced that the death
penalty would remain the law in the Bahamas and that measures would be taken
to speed up the appeal process. Then, at the beginning of July, it was announced
that if death row prisoners failed to file an appeal within 21 days of sentencing,
the authorities may set a date for their execution, thus forcing them to appeal.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please telephone/ send faxes/express/airmail letters in
English or your own language:
- expressing deep concern that John Higgs is scheduled to be executed on 29
July 1997 and urging that his death sentence be commuted and that no further
executions be carried out;
- expressing sympathy for the victims of violent crime and their relatives;
- stressing that the reasons for the decision of the Court of Appeal in the
case of John Higgs have not yet been given, making it difficult for the prisoner
to pursue an appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, the final
court of appeal for the Bahamas and that if the execution were to take place
it would be in contravention of the Safeguards Guaranteeing Protection of the
Rights of Those Facing the Death Penalty, adopted by the United Nations Economic
and Social Council (ECOSOC) in resolution 1984/50 and adopted by the UN General
Assembly on 14 December 1984 which state: "Capital Punishment shall not be
carried out pending any appeal or other recourse procedure or other proceeding
relating to pardon or commutation of the sentence";
- urging that the sentences of all those who have been on death row for more
than years be commuted to life imprisonment, in accordance with the October
1996 decision of the JCPC.
If possible, also make some or all of the following general points about the
death penalty:
- it has never been shown to deter crime more effectively than other punishments;
- it has a brutalizing effect upon all those who are involved in the process;
- it goes against the widely accepted principle of rehabilitating the offender;
- it does not necessarily alleviate the suffering caused to the victims of
violent crime;
- execution is irrevocable and, despite the most stringent judicial safeguards,
can be inflicted on the innocent.
The Honourable Frank Watson
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Security
PO Box N3217
Nassau, Bahamas
Telephone: +1 242 356 6792
Faxes: + 1 242 356 6087
Salutation: Dear Deputy Prime Minister
The Honourable Hubert Ingraham
Prime Minister
Sir Cecil V. Wallace Centre
PO Box CB 10980
Nassau, Bahamas
Telephone: + 1 242 322 2805
Faxes: + 1 242 327 5806
Salutation: Dear Prime Minister
His Excellency Sir Orville Turnquest
Governor General
PO Box N-8301
Nassau, Bahamas
Telephone.: + 1 242 322 1875
Faxes: + 1 242 322 4659
Salutation: Your Excellency
The Honourable Tennyson Wells
Attorney General
PO Box N-3007
Nassau, Bahamas
Telephone: + 1 242 322 1141
Faxes: + 1 242 322 2255
The Honourable Janet Bostwick
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
PO Box N-3746
Nassau, Bahamas
Telephone: + 1 242 322 7624
Faxes: + 1 242 328 8212
The Tribune
PO Box N-3207
Nassau, Bahamas
Fax: +1 242 328 2398
The Nassau Guardian
PO Box N-3011
Nassau, Bahamas
Fax: +1 242 325 3379
and to diplomatic representatives of the Bahamas accredited to your country.
PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY. Check with the International Secretariat,
or your section office, if sending appeals after 18 August 1997.

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