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Prisoner released after waiting 20 years for trial


Prisoner released after waiting 20 years for trial

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Kingston – A judge Friday freed a 49-year-old mentally ill man who spent more than 20 years in jail after he was awaiting trial on charges of allegedly throwing stones at a group of men.

Senior Parish Court judge, Justice Ann-Marie Granger, freed Abraham Lawrence after reviewing reports from a psychiatrist and probation officer which indicated that “he is not fit to plead”.

Lawrence had been granted bail a week ago more than 20 years after he was admitted into the custody of the Department of Correctional Services in 1999.

He had been arrested following an altercation where he allegedly threw stones at a group of men in Huntley Castle district, St Elizabeth, one of the largest parishes on the southwest of the island.

A police service vehicle was damaged during the altercation.

He was declared unfit to plead and remained in jail until last week when he was granted bail and released into the care of his family.

Justice Granger said Friday that Lawrence needs to follow up with the doctor.

“Take him to the hospital or see a private doctor,” she told Lawrence’s brother who was present in court, adding that the probation officer is to visit Lawrence regularly at home.

Last month, the human rights group, Stand Up for Jamaica (SUFJ), said it was seeking the release from prison of two inmates, one of whom spent more than 40 years behind bars awaiting trial on a murder charge.

The group said that it has taken the position in keeping with its commitment to identify and advocate for inmates who have been deemed unfit to plead.

The move follows the disclosure in May that 81-year-old Noel Chambers died in custody after 40 years without a trial and Prime Minister Andrew Holness acknowledged that “this tragedy is undoubtedly ranked amongst the most dreadful inheritances of a penal and judicial system that are in urgent need of reform”.

In a statement, the SUFJ said that the 68-year-old man, was charged for murder on October 28, 1970 when he was 22 years old and that he has been behind bars for 48 years. The human rights group said that he is currently not receiving treatment and is not scheduled for court. It also noted that the unidentified inmate is not being assessed for his fitness to plea.

The group said that the second inmate was deemed unfit to plead in 1976 after being charged for two counts of murder. He is currently 61 years-old. SUFJ said the names of the two inmates have been withheld to protect their privacy and that of their families. (CMC)