Opinion: The defense of Roberts and Richards

POSTED: 09/3/12 10:56 PM

How do you defend someone who has been accused of truly horrible crimes? That task befell two attorneys last week when Curtley Allison Richards and Sherwan Roberts stood in front of their judges in the Common Court of Justice to appeal their life sentences. Infamously known as the Regatta-killers, shortsighted people would not give these two men a second thought, certainly not when that thought has to be about their rights to proper defense. If you kill three people in a horrible way – and the Court in First Instance considers this convincingly proven that Richards and Roberts did exactly that – not many people care about your rights anymore.
mr. Geert Hatzmann, the attorney for 32-year-old Richards hammered on the fact that his client cannot be held fully accountable for what he did. He has a serious mental defect that results in a tendency to violence, the attorney noted. Richards’ conscience is also not working properly and he has an extremely low intelligence – an IQ of 69 which brings Richards in the category of the mentally handicapped.
Hatzmann noted that his client is able to re-socialize on the condition that he does not drink alcohol. (During the trial in the Court in First Instance it became clear that Richards has a habit of drinking two bottles of whisky per day).
The combination of not being fully accountable with an average risk that he will commit similar crimes in the future, justify treatment and some perspective, the attorney reasoned. But Richards has little maneuvering space, he realized at the same time: the community is screaming for retaliation and demands maximum prevention.
For all these reasons, Hatzmann pleaded with the court to void the life sentence and to give his client the maximum temporary prison sentence of 30 years plus TBS.
Under TBS someone is put at the disposal of the government. It involved forced admission into a psychiatric hospital where clients are evaluated every year. The outcome of the evaluation determined whether they have to stay in the facility or whether they are ready to return to the society. This is a guarantee that my client won’t be released just like that, Hatzmann said, but it offers him at least some perspective.
The question for those who attended the appeal hearing remains whether Richards really cares about that perspective. Like his co-defendant Roberts he remained emotionless throughout the lengthy procedure and he did not make the impression that he even realizes that at 32, his life is effectively over.
And Roberts? He is just 20 years of age and he finds himself in the same situation. His attorney mr. Shaira Bommel spent no time on the matter of guilt: based on the evidence and on her client’s own statements his guilt is a fact.
But did he realize what he was doing? mr. Bommel said. In other words, like with Richards, is Roberts accountable for what he did?
Reports from a psychologist and a psychiatrist reveal that Roberts is to a certain degree not fully accountable for his actions. When he committed the crimes during what Solicitor-General Stein called “an orgy of violence” Roberts was under the influence of “a serious personality disorder” whereby psychological factors influenced his actions.
Roberts also has psychopathic tendencies and he is possibly psychotic. As far as intelligence is concerned he is on a par with Richards: an IQ below 69, which earns him the status of mentally handicapped.
mr. Bommel noted that her client had suffered from this condition from a young age and that he did not chose to be in this position. Under such conditions, the attorney told the court, a lengthy treatment is required.
Such a treatment is fitting, she said, eventually combined with a prison sentence. There has to be a perspective on a return to the society, also for people who commit very serious crimes.
The psychiatrist advised that there is still some hope for this young man, and that it may be possible to correct some things. A life sentence would result in a mental hardening and that could get in the way of a possible treatment, mr. Bommel said.
Like her confrère Hatzmann, Bommel asked the court for a prison sentence combined with intensive treatment Roberts reacts positively to structure, she added, and that will also make it possible for treatment to work.
It is clear that the defense, the prosecution and the court are dealing here with two very sick people. That does not make right what they did wrong and there is no doubt in anybody’s mind that the two men will remain a guest of the state for a very, very long time. Nothing will undo what they did, nothing will bring their victims back to their families, and nothing will free the minds of those who survived an encounter with the murderous defendants of the horrible experience they went through.
And yet, in the civilized country St. Maarten wants to be, these defendants are entitled to proper defense like anybody else who gets on the wrong side of the law. The most simplistic approach to these situations is “to lock them up and throw the key away” and it should not surprise anybody that such sentiments exist.
The attorneys have done their job and made the best of an impossible situation. It is now up to the court to take the final decision about the fate of these two defendants.

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