A Toco man who was sentenced to death for two murders, and later had his death sentences commuted to 25 years in jail, is now seeking total freedom from the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
Neil “Redman” Hernandez is alleging that the death sentences imposed on him was unlawful as a result of his intellectual disability. He contends that he has an IQ of 57.
His final appeal will be heard in the Privy Council on May 16 and 17 by Lady Hale, and Lords Kerr, Clarke, Hughes and Toulson
On 29th November 2004, Hernandez was convicted of the murders of Christine Henry and her six year old son, Phillip Henry.
The case for the prosecution was that the Hernandez killed both persons May, 2, 2000, at Tompire Beach, Toco where they had gone to have a bath. He attacked them with a cutlass. They received multiple fatal chop wounds about their bodies.
The prosecution relied principally on the evidence of Darren Lyons, Julien Des Vignes and a confession statement given by Hernandez to the police on May 4, 2000. Lyons and Des Vignes both worked nearby on Peake’s Estate which adjoined Tompire Beach.
On the morning of the May 2, 2000, Lyons was instructed by Everton Williams also called Breddo, who was the overseer at Peake’s estate and husband of the deceased Christine Henry, to go to Williams’ home approximately a quarter mile from the estate.
When he arrived there he met Julien Des Vignes and they went to the beach. On the track leading to the beach Lyons stumbled upon the motionless body of Phillip Henry and on the beach he saw the body of Christine Henry covered in blood with several chop wounds to her body.
On the way to the hospital, in response to Lyons, Christine told him that they had been attacked by Hernandez. She also told him that she knew she was going to die and to take care of her children. Des Vignes testified that at 5.00 a.m. that day Hernandez left the accommodation that they shared saying he was going to cut coconuts on the beach.
When the he left he had a cutlass in a case fastened around his waist. Des Vignes also testified that around 10.00 a.m. he ran down to the beach. On the way he saw the body of Phillip Henry, and on the beach he saw Christine Henry lying on the ground.
He asked Christine who had done that to her and she replied that it was Hernandez who had attacked her. She also told him that she knew she was going to die and to take care of her children. Hernandez was arrested at his home the same day.
When told of the report against him, Hernandez told the police officer that he only used his cutlass with a cause. He gave a written statement to the police on May 4, 2000. In the statement he said that he was on top of the hill husking coconuts when he observed Christine and her three children on Tompire Beach.
He called out to them and went towards them with his cutlass in his hand. He said that Christine asked him if he was working and he told her he wasn’t and that he was only making a hustle. She threatened to report him to her husband. An argument arose between them and Christine walked off saying she was going to tell her husband.
He admitted that he then swung his blade at her, not intending to chop her, but in the process she was chopped. Hernandez further indicated in his statement that his intention was to “planass her” (to strike her with the flat side of the cutlass). He said that on hearing her tell Phillip to call Breddo he swung the blade with the intention of planassing Phillip but he too got chopped.
Hernandez gave evidence and called witnesses. He raised the issue of alibi stating that on the day in question he had left home very early to go and husk coconuts along the beach. He returned home about 11.30 a.m, took a bath and had a rest. About 3.00 p.m. he was awakened by the police officers and taken into custody. He contended that he was tricked into signing a statement which he was not allowed to read.
He agreed that the signatures were his. No psychiatric evidence was adduced on behalf of the accused and no psychiatric assessment was conducted. On the 29th November 2004, Hernandez was convicted on both counts of murder and sentenced to death.
The Court of Appeal dismissed his appeal and affirmed his convictions and sentences on 21st June 2005. On 12th February 2008, the Judicial Committee dismissed the petition against conviction and adjourned the petition against sentence pending the outcome of Lester Pitman v. The State (P.C.A. No. 89 of 2005).
By supplemental petition for special leave to appeal dated 30th January 2008, Hernandez sought the following: a) leave to admit fresh evidence in the form of a neuropsychological report of Dr. Alistair Gray, a Clinical Psychologist; and b) set out one further ground of appeal against sentence arising out of the findings of Dr. Alistair Gray.
The further ground of appeal was whether the imposition of the death sentence on a mentally retarded defendant is cruel and unusual punishment contrary to section 5 of the Republican Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago.
Pursuant to the supplemental petition, the Judicial Committee having taken into consideration the judgment of the Board in Lester Pitman v. The State (P.C.A. No 89 of 2005), granted special leave to appeal against sentence and the matter was remitted to the Court of Appeal to consider the following issues: a) whether to admit the neuropsychological report of Dr. Alistair Gray dated 27th November 2007, as well as any further evidence filed by the appellant and/or the State and b) to determine the supplemental ground of appeal against sentence as the Court of Appeal sees fit.
The time which had elapsed between conviction and the hearing and determination of Hernandez’s supplemental petition by the Privy Council was approximately three years and five months. Subsequent to the Order of Remittal by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council the matter came before the Court of Appeal to consider whether to admit the neuropsychological report of Dr. Alistair Gray dated 27th November 2007 and the supplemental ground of appeal against sentence.
At the end of the appeal on July 15, 2014, the Court of Appeal comprising Justices Paula Mae Weekes, Alice Soo Hon, and Rajendra Narine, allowed the appeals.
The death sentences were vacated, and in each case a term of life imprisonment not to be released before 30 years was substituted. From this figure, the time spent in custody awaiting trial was deducted – a period of four years and seven months.
That left a figure of 25 years and five months. The sentences will run concurrently and will start from the date of conviction – November 29, 2004.