Caribbean Diaspora and the Capital Punishment in the United States an overlooked issue – Part I

Written by Carmelo Campos-Cruz

Although the execution of Charles Elroy Laplace in St Kitts on 19 December 2008 was the last in the Caribbean and the number of death sentences in our region has declined steadily, there is another way to impose capital punishment on people from this region; by a death sentence in another country where a person is subject to a criminal procedure. This situation applies considerably to the Caribbean Diaspora in the United States of America. This the main destination for migrants from our region and the only country in the Americas that executes people every year. Census from 2010 estimated that 3.7 million nationals from the islands of the Caribbean lived in the United States, plus 4.6 million Puerto Ricans. The Caribbean immigrant population increased to 4.4 million in 2017, and to almost 5.5 million Puerto Ricans in 2016.  

The objective of this article is to summarize the application of capital punishment to the people from the Caribbean in the United States. The information presented comes primarily from two sources: (1) a page devoted to the situation of foreign nationals under sentence of death and (2) a report issued last April about Puerto Rican facing the death penalty in the United States. The second part of this analysis, to be published later, will examine specific cases and histories of human beings from our region who have been executed or who are awaiting execution in the US. 

People from the Caribbean executed in the United States

Since 1976, when the United States reestablished capital punishment, 24 persons from the Greater Caribbean have been executed in four states; 13 were Mexicans. Texas, the most prolific jurisdiction employing the death penalty in US history, accounts for 14 executions, followed by Florida (5) and Virginia (3). When we focus on the islands of the Caribbean, four Cuban nationals have been executed, followed by the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico with one person executed from each of these countries.

Persons from the Greater Caribbean executed in the United States since 1976

NameCountryDate of executionStateMethod of execution
Leslie LowenfieldGuyana04/13/1988LouisianaElectrocution
Carlos SantanaDominican Republic03/23/1993TexasLethal injection
Ramon MontoyaMexico03/25/1993TexasLethal injection
Pedro MedinaMexico03/25/1997FloridaElectrocution
Irineo MontoyaMexico06/18/1997TexasLethal injection
Mario MurphyMexico09/17/1997VirginiaLethal injection
Jose VillafuerteHonduras04/22/1998ArizonaLethal injection
Miguel FloresMexico11/09/2000TexasLethal injection
Javier SuarezMexico08/14/2002TexasLethal injection
Rigoberto SanchezCuba10/02/2002FloridaLethal injection
Angel MaturinoMexico06/27/2006TexasLethal injection
Angel NievesPuerto Rico12/13/2006FloridaLethal injection
Jose MedellinMexico08/05/2008TexasLethal injection
Heliberto ChiHonduras08/07/2008TexasLethal injection
Edward BellJamaica02/19/2009VirginiaLethal injection
Yosvanis Valle Cuba11/10/2009TexasLethal injection
Humberto LealMexico07/07/2011TexasLethal injection
Manuel ValleCuba09/28/2011FloridaLethal injection
Edgard TamayoMexico01/22/2014TexasLethal injection
Juan ChavezCuba02/14/2014FloridaLethal injection
Ramiro HernandezMexico04/09/2014TexasLethal injection
Alfredo PrietoEl Salvador10/01/2015VirginiaLethal injection
Ruben CardenasMexico11/08/2017TexasLethal injection
Roberto RamosMexico11/14/2018TexasLethal injection

Summary by country

Dominican Republic1
El Salvador1
Puerto Rico1
Central America3
Islands of the Caribbean + Guyana8
from abolitionist countries of the Caribbean18
from retentionist countries of the Caribbean6

Persons of Caribbean origin on death row in the United States today

There are 106 persons from countries of the Greater Caribbean waiting to be executed in seven States (plus one in the federal jurisdiction), including 35 persons from the islands of the Caribbean. Most of these persons originate from Puerto Rico (20) and Cuba (8). Another ten individuals have had their death sentences reversed and are waiting for a new trial or a sentencing hearing in which capital punishment may be imposed again.

Persons from the Islands of the Caribbean 

under Sentence of Death in the United States

Manuel Machado AlvarezCubaCalifornia
Omar BlancoCubaFlorida
Ana Maria CardonaCubaFlorida
Jesus DelgadoCubaFlorida
Leonardo FranquiCubaFlorida
Pablo San MartinCubaFlorida
Marbel MendozaCubaFlorida
Manolo RodriguezCubaFlorida
Fabio Evelio GomezDominican RepublicArizona
Obel Cruz GarciaDominican RepublicTexas
Borgela PhilistinHaitiPennsylvania
Robert GordonJamaicaFlorida
Granville RitchieJamaicaFlorida
Albert ReidJamaicaPennsylvania
Christopher HenriquezPuerto RicoCalifornia
Christian CruzPuerto RicoFlorida
Ricardo GonzalezPuerto RicoFlorida
Norberto PietriPuerto RicoFlorida
Michael RiveraPuerto RicoFlorida
Héctor Gabriel SanchezPuerto RicoFlorida
Angel R. SantiagoPuerto RicoFlorida
Reinaldo RiveraPuerto RicoGeorgia
Orlando BaezPuerto RicoPennsylvania
Jose BusanetPuerto RicoPennsylvania
George Ivan LopezPuerto RicoPennsylvania
Hector M. MoralesPuerto RicoPennsylvania
Cletus C. RiveraPuerto RicoPennsylvania
William RiveraPuerto RicoPennsylvania
Edwin R. RomeroPuerto RicoPennsylvania
Abraham SanchezPuerto RicoPennsylvania
Jose UderraPuerto RicoPennsylvania
Christopher HenriquezPuerto RicoNorth Carolina
James BroadnaxPuerto RicoTexas
Daniel TroyaPuerto RicoFederal government 
Linda CartySt KittsTexas
Ian LightbournThe BahamasCalifornia

Persons from the Islands of the Caribbean previously sentenced to death and awaiting resentencing or a new trial in the United States

Lancelot ArmstrongJamaicaFlorida
Victor CaraballoPuerto RicoFlorida
Joel LebronPuerto RicoFlorida
Alex PaganPuerto RicoFlorida
Michael ShellitoPuerto RicoFlorida
Milton MontalvoPuerto RicoPennsylvania
Noel MontalvoPuerto RicoPennsylvania
Dolan DarlingThe BahamasCalifornia
Dane AbdoolTrinidad & TobagoFlorida
Noel DoorbalTrinidad & TobagoFlorida

Summary by country

Sentenced to deathAwaiting resentencing or a new trialTotal
Puerto Rico20525
El Salvador808
Dominican Republic202
The Bahamas112
Costa Rica101
St. Kitts & Nevis101
Trinidad & Tobago022
Central America17017
Islands of the Caribbean35944
from abolitionist countries of the Caribbean93699
from retentionist countries of the Caribbean13417


The Caribbean Diaspora has been adversely affected by capital punishment in the United States. There are more people from the Greater Caribbean sentenced to death in the US (106) than persons facing execution in all the retentionist countries of the Caribbean (85). Notably, there are more persons from countries that have abolished capital punishment (Mexico, Puerto Rico, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, and Haiti) than from retentionist countries (Cuba, Jamaica, The Bahamas, St. Kitts and Trinidad and Tobago), due to the size of their respective migrant population in the US. As this article was limited to present basic figures, more studies will be needed to understand the impact of this issue in the struggle to eradicate this cruel punishment in the Americas.


Access to Counsel: A Matter of Life or Death

October 10th 2020 is the 18th World Day for the Abolition of the Death Penalty worldwide. This year will be dedicated to the right to effective legal representation for individuals who may face a death sentence.

Without access to effective legal representation during arrest, detention, trial and post-trial, due process cannot be guaranteed.In a capital case, the consequences that can arise from a lack of effective legal representation can be nothing less than the difference between life and death.

On the national and international levels, the right to legal representation is enshrined in most constitutions and human rights instruments. Unfortunately, justice systems around the world repeatedly violate this right and fail to give those charged with a crime adequate legal representation.

World Coalition Against Death Penalty

10 Things YOU can do to end the death penalty

  1. Get in touch with your member of parliament
  2. Organize or attend a demonstration to educate persons on death penalty abolition
  3. Share artwork and stories of individuals directly affected by the death penalty
  4. Donate to GCL to further the work of abolitionists in the Caribbean
  5. Follow the social media campaign #nodeathpenalty
  6. Join events and spark conversation around ending the death penalty globally
  7. Subscribe to the GCL Newsletter to educate yourself about the death penalty
  8. Become a member of GCL and help push the abolitionist effort forward
  9. Mobilize media awareness on local radio talk shows
  10. Participate in the GCL Speaking Tour the week of October 10th 2020

Additional Resources:

Report Published on Opinions on Abolishing the Death Penalty in the Eastern Caribbean and Barbados

The Death Penalty Project on April 7th published its latest report: Sentenced to Death Without Execution: Why capital punishment has not yet been abolished in the Eastern Caribbean and Barbados by Roger Hood and Florence Seemungal with the assistance of Amaya Athill (Former Project Assistant at GCL)

You can download a copy of the report below:

“A study of this kind is the absolute need of the hour. The Caribbean countries have never had the benefit of an empirical study of this nature, looking at the opinions of influential individuals on the death penalty. It is time for the respective governments to show principled leadership to bring an end to capital punishment in the Caribbean. For the first time, they can rely on accurate data and independent research to introspect on their stance on the death penalty and take the necessary steps required for abolition”.

Leela Ramdeen, Executive Board Member, The Greater Caribbean for Life

This research study provides new empirical evidence based on the opinions of informed, influential citizens of why, in all the six member states of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and Barbados, the death penalty remains on their statute books even though no persons have been executed for many years. The last execution in the region was carried out in St Kitts and Nevis in 2008. No one has been executed in the other countries for more than 20 years and in Dominica, Grenada, St Lucia and Barbados for more than 30 years. Nine of the 12 Commonwealth Caribbean countries (including all jurisdictions addressed in this study, except for Barbados) have nobody, or only one prisoner, on death row. The research sheds light on why these countries hang on to capital punishment and what are the barriers and hindrances to its complete abolition.

This research, the first of its kind in the Caribbean region, interviewed personally 100 people, drawn from the seven jurisdictions, who were regarded by our knowledgeable local collaborators as ‘opinion formers’. They were selected from four areas of public life: politics and the higher civil service; criminal justice and legal practice; religious leaders; and well-regarded and influential members of civil society. Forty-eight revealed they favoured retention of the death penalty and 52 favoured of its abolition.

This study was co-funded by a grant received from the European Union and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The study has been carried out as part of a larger collaborative project funded by the European Union and undertaken by The Death Penalty Project; the Faculty of Law at the University of the West Indies (Cave Hill); local civil society organisations Greater Caribbean for Life and the St Vincent and the Grenadines Human Rights Association;  and the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty.

Professor Roger Hood (Emeritus Professor of Criminology at the University of Oxford and one of the foremost experts on the death penalty worldwide) was commissioned to devise this research and write the report and his colleague Dr Florence Seemungal (adjunct staff member of the University of the West Indies Open Campus) was responsible for organising and carrying out the fieldwork, assisted by attorney-at -law Amaya Athill.


The Greater Caribbean for Life (GCL) calls for more humane living conditions for those on death row

GCL calls for more humane living conditions for those on death row. On 10 October 2018 abolitionists around the world will observe the 16th World Day Against the Death Penalty. This year, the World Day will focus on the living conditions of those sentenced to death.

Leela Ramdeen, Chair of GCL, states: “Too often the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules) are ignored and many prisoners on death row are confined to harsh and inhumane conditions. A revised version of the 1955 Rules was adopted unanimously by the UN General Assembly on 17 Dec 2015. The Rules set out ‘the minimum standards for good prison management, including to ensure the rights of prisoners are respected.’”

As the World Coalition against the Death Penalty states: “According to Amnesty International’s 2017 annual report, at least 21,919 people were known to be under a sentence of death worldwide at the end of 2017. The Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide estimates the number of people sentenced to death around the world to be slightly less than 40, 000. Although people on death row are entitled to the same basic rights and treatment conditions as other categories of prisoners, as set out in the… Nelson Mandela rules, many testimonies document the inhumane living conditions that people sentenced to death endure.

“Although conditions of detention for people sentenced to death vary from one country to another, they always affect not only the person sentenced to death, but also their families, relatives, lawyers, and others. People on death row have very little contact with their family and lawyers, as access to death row is often very limited.”

Inhuman living conditions on death rows also include overcrowding, solitary confinement, substandard physical and psychological health care, a lack of access to sufficient religious services and insufficient access to natural light, fresh air and outdoor activities as many are confined in small cells for up to 23 hours per day. Ariel Dulitzky, director of Texas’ Human Rights Clinic, says: “Any person who is kept in solitary confinement for more than 15 days starts to suffer mental and psychological effects that cannot be reversed, and that fits the definition of torture.”

While we all take action to reduce crime and address the needs of victims, let us not lose our humanity by trampling on the dignity of those on death rows. This diminishes all of us.

We welcome the fact that Pope Francis has revised the Catholic Catechism (2267) making it clear that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person, and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”

Today 142 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Let us devote our energies to find non-lethal means to hold offenders accountable for their crimes and more effective/humane ways of building just societies; promoting respect for life and for the rule of law.

For further information, contact Leela Ramdeen, Chair, GCL at

Unjust and Unwanted: Malaysia’s Mandatory Death Penalty

We are sharing with you a link to the DEATH PENALTY PROJECT’s new animation on the mandatory death penalty in Malaysia, “Unjust and Unwanted: Malaysia’s Mandatory Death Penalty. The video was launched at the International Malaysia Law Conference.

Click play…

GCL welcomes Pope Francis’ decision to revise the Catholic Church’s teaching on the Death Penalty

The Greater Caribbean for Life (GCL) welcomes Pope Francis’ decision to revise the Catholic Church’s teaching on the Death Penalty. This decision is linked to the Catholic Church’s belief that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society.

A letter to all Bishops from the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, dated 1 August 2018, includes the new text of the n. 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as approved by Pope Francis. The letter, (see link below), also outlines the development of the doctrine on the death penalty that has taken place in recent times.

Inter alia, the revised text, which “centers principally on the clearer awareness of the Church for the respect due to every human life”, reads as follows:

Today…there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption…the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person, and {the Church} works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”

Leela Ramdeen, Chair of GCL says: “To date 141 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.  As Ivan Šimonović, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, stated in 2014: ‘As long as the death penalty exists, there will be a need to advocate against it.’  GCL will continue to be a tireless advocate, not only for the abolition of the death penalty in the Caribbean region and worldwide, but also for effective systems to be put in place to reduce crime and to support the victims of crime. States have a duty to protect the common good, but we agree with Pope Francis that they can do so without resorting to lethal means. ALL lives matter!”

For further information contact Leela Ramdeen, Chair, GCL at:


Comunidad Europea



Arthur Chung Conference Centre, Georgetown, Guyana

23/24 November 2015

 The European Union organized a Caribbean Regional Conference on the Abolition of the Death Penalty in partnership with the International Commission against the Death Penalty. The conference was funded by the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights and the British High Commission in Guyana. Twenty-five participants came from Europe and the Caribbean region, as well as numerous participants from Guyana. The following organizations were also represented: the European External Action Service; the International Commission against the Death Penalty; the UK All Party Parliamentary Group on Abolition of the Death Penalty, the World Coalition against the Death Penalty; Greater Caribbean for Life; Parliamentarians for Global Action; Guyana Human Rights Association; Justice Institute Guyana; Human Rights Commission Belize; National Human Rights Defence Network Haiti; and the Ministry of Legal Affairs of Guyana.

Conclusions of the conference:

The risk of executing innocent people exists in any justice system:

There have been and always will be cases of executions of innocent people. No matter how developed a justice system is, it will always remain susceptible to human failure. Unlike prison sentences, the death penalty is irreversible and irreparable.

The arbitrary application of the death penalty can never be ruled out:

The death penalty is often used in a disproportional manner against the poor, minorities and members of racial, ethnic, political and religious groups.

The death penalty is incompatible with human rights and human dignity:

The death penalty violates the right to life, which happens to be the most basic of all human rights. It also violates the right not to be subjected to torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment. Furthermore, the death penalty undermines human dignity, which is inherent to every human being.

The death penalty does not deter crime effectively:

The death penalty lacks the deterrent effect, which is commonly referred to by its advocates. As recently stated by the General Assembly of the United Nations, “there is no conclusive evidence of the deterrent value of the death penalty” (UNGA Resolution 65/206). It is noteworthy that in many retentionist states, the effectiveness of the death penalty in order to prevent crime is being seriously questioned by a continuously increasing number of law enforcement professionals.

Public opinion is not a major stumbling block for abolition:

Public support for the death penalty does not necessarily mean that taking away the life of a human being by the state is right. There are undisputed historical precedents where gross human rights violations had had the support of a majority of the people, but which were condemned vigorously later on. It is the job of leading figures and politicians to underline the incompatibility of capital punishment with human rights and human dignity. It needs to be pointed out that public support for the death penalty is inextricably linked to the desire of the people to be free from crime. However, there exist more effective ways to prevent crime.


  • Formalize the unofficial moratorium of the death penalty in countries in the Caribbean region that retain capital punishment;
  • Respect international and regional human rights law and standards relating to the death penalty;
  • Engagement and constructive dialogue with governments in the Caribbean region as they take steps towards eventual abolition of the death penalty;
  • Strengthening justice system structures, including ensuring that it is sufficiently resources, that it has the capacity of effectively investigating crimes, ensuring that victims are supported, ensuring adequate legal assistance to vulnerable sections of society;
  • Advancing human rights education as part of the curriculum for citizenship studies.

GCL Logo


EU Conference in Guyana for The Abolition of The Death Penalty

The Death Penalty As A Deterrent: Does It Work?

Leela Ramdeen

Leela Ramdeen, Chair, Greater Caribbean for Life (TT) )

Good afternoon, my friends. We all know the saying by the 19th Century writer: Victor Hugo, author of Les Miserables (1802-1885).  He said: “What says the law? You will not kill. How does it say it? By killing!”  And, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu said in his message to those of us who gathered in Madrid at the 5th World Congress against the Death Penalty in 2013: “There is no justice in killing in the name of justice, and no godliness in exacting vengeance.”

Too often it is the poor/working class, and individuals from minority ethnic communities who are over represented on death row/receive the death sentence. As the saying goes: “Capital punishment is for those who have no capital.”

Let me state from the outset that GCL believes that society has a right to protect itself from persons who commit heinous crimes and offenders must be held accountable. However, we believe that non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect society from offenders.

While GCL condemns the rise of violent crime in the Greater Caribbean region, and stands in solidarity with the victims of crime, members reject the notion that capital punishment will act as a deterrent or foster respect for life in our communities. What is urgent is for governments to consider the root causes of crime.

  1. See General Assembly of the United Nations:Resolution 65/206 of 2012 and 69/186 of 18 Dec 2014 –– endorse the claim that there is “no conclusive evidence of the deterrent value of the death penalty.“ Convinced that a moratorium on the use of the death penalty contributes to respect for human dignity and to the enhancement and progressive development of human rights, and considering that there is no conclusive evidence of the deterrent value of the death penalty…”
  2. Here in our Caribbean region, The Honourable the Chief Justice, Mr Justice Ivor Archieof Trinidad and Tobago, said at the opening of the Law Term, 2010: “I am yet to see any persuasive empirical evidence that executions significantly reduce murder or crime rates generally… social scientists…suggest(s) that the certainty of conviction, and within a reasonably quick time, is a more potent factor.”

And at the opening of the Law Term this year (16 September 2015), he said that:

“Over the past few years the number of persons awaiting trial for murder has risen to more than 514. Common sense tells me that by itself the death penalty is not the solution. Apart from the dubiousness of its value as a deterrent…

Frank Friel, Former Head of Organized Crime Homicide Task Force, Philadelphia, rightly says:  “The death penalty does little to prevent crime. It’s the fear of apprehension and the likely prospect of swift and certain punishment that provides the largest deterrent to crime.”

  1. It is worth notingwhat some other judges had to say about the deterrence argument in relation to the death penalty. I refer to the landmark decision by the 11 members of the Constitutional Court of South Africa – which consisted of jurists from different races, religions and age groups – in the South African case of The State v Makwanyane and Mchunu. Judgment was delivered on 6 June 1995.  The court ruled that capital punishment was incompatible with the protection against “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” in the Interim Constitution of 1993. It therefore abolished the death penalty in South AfricaThe attorney general of Witwatersrand had pressed for the death penalty for two convicts.

The Presiding Judge, President Arthur Chaskalson, stated that the most effective deterrent is the knowledge that the offender will probably be caught, convicted, and punished. In striking out the use of the death penalty, the Court said: “We would be deluding ourselves if we were to believe that the execution of the few persons sentenced to death during this period, and of a comparatively few other people each year from now onwards will provide the solution to the unacceptably high rate of crime. There will always be unstable, desperate, and pathological people for whom the risk of arrest and imprisonment provides no deterrent, but there is nothing to show that a decision to carry out the death sentence would have any impact on the behaviour of such people, or that there will be more of them if imprisonment is the only sanction. No information was placed before us by the Attorney General n regard to the rising crime rate other than   the bare statistics, and they alone prove nothing, other than that we are living in a violent society, in which most crime goes unpunished, something that we all know.”

He noted that the Attorney-General had admitted that it was impossible to prove convincingly that the death penalty was a deterrent, and that inevitably there was an element of speculation in such a conclusion. ‘It is’, he said, ‘a proposition that is not capable of proof, because one never knows about those who have been deterred; we know only about those who have not been deterred, and who have committed terrible crimes.’

“…Justice Kerigler stated in his concurring reasons:  ‘…no empirical study, no statistical exercise, and not theoretical analysis has been able to demonstrate that capital punishment has any deterrent force greater than that of a really heavy sentence of imprisonment.’

“Therefore, ‘it simply cannot be reasonable to sanction judicial killing without knowing whether it has any marginal deterrent value.’”(See p.64 of the book: The Death Penalty as Cruel Treatment and Torture… )

  1. NYU Professor David Greenberg and Virginia Tech University Professor Biko Agozinoconducted a study in Trinidad and Tobago in 2011. They found no correlation between executions, imprisonment and crime: “over a span of 50 years, during which these sanctions were being deployed in degrees that varied substantially, neither imprisonment nor death sentences nor executions had any significant relationship to homicides. In the years immediately following an appeals court’s determination limiting executions, the murder rate fell.”

In particular, the study showed that between 1950 and 1980, while executions were carried out regularly every year, homicides rates remained fairly stable. In the years since 1980, although courts continued to impose death sentences, executions took place in just two of those years. This drop in executions had no large, immediate impact on murder rates, which only began to rise sharply from 2003, when the consequences of drug trafficking and illegal possession of weapons also began taking its toll on the country.)

  1. A recently launched book, entitled: Moving Away from the Death Penalty: Arguments, Trends and Perspectiveshas a helpful section on the issue of Deterrence. Federico Mayor,President of the International Commission against the Death Penalty, rightly states in his chapter in this book: Leadership and the abolition of the death penalty: “Rejecting capital punishment is about choosing what kind of society we want to live in, and which values—including human rights and dignity, democracy and the rule of law—we want to uphold….Principled political leadership, within the domestic realm and internationally, is an essential factor in the momentum that is driving the movement for the abolition of the death penalty.

Ultimately, it is the state that must decide to abolish the death penalty and protect the fundamental human right to life. Political leadership has been very important in overcoming domestic opposition to abolition in several countries. Political leaders have recognized that while public opinion is relevant, nations face difficulties if popular sentiment, which is difficult to gauge accurately, is allowed to determine penal policy. Experience shows that the majority of the public is willing to accept abolition of capital punishment once it is achieved.”

— Federico Mayor (UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR),( Moving Away from the Death Penalty: Arguments, Trends and Perspectives, 2014, available at: [accessed 12 November 2015]

  1. A comprehensive review of the research on the issue of deterrence over 34 yearswas conducted by a Committee of The National Research Council of the National Academies in the USA. The Committee confirmed in its April 2012 report that: “research to date on the effect of capital punishment on homicide rates is not useful in determining whether the death penalty increases, decreases, or has no effect on these rates. The key question is whether capital punishment is less or more effective as a deterrent than alternative punishments, such as a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Yet none of the research that has been done accounted for the possible effect of non-capital punishments on homicide rates.”

These findings are consistent with research undertaken in 1988, and updated in 2002 by one of the leading authorities on the death penalty. A survey of research findings on the death penalty and homicide rates concluded that “it is not prudent to accept the hypothesis that capital punishment…deters murder to a marginally greater extent than does the threat and application of the supposedly lesser punishment of life imprisonment.”  (Roger Hood and Carolyn Hoyle, The Death Penalty: A Worldwide Perspective, Oxford, OUP, 4th edition 2008).

  1. In their chapter entitled: Myth of Deterrence,  in the book Moving Away from the Death Penalty: Arguments, Trends and Perspectives, Carolyn Hoyle and Roger Hood state: “The empirical research conducted over the past few decades demonstrates that no matter what politicians argue or the public believe, neither deterrence nor public opinion should be seen as barriers to abolition.


It is well-known that some categories of offenders would not be deterred by the threat of being executed.  Federico Mayor stated that many of those sentenced to death have mental health issues or were under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the offence, both of which suggest the defendant may not have thought through the consequences of their actions or the possibility they may be executed. Moreover, Mayor stated, organized crime groups make “calculated decisions and believe that detection and convictions are unlikely” while “those who commit terrorists acts for political ends…are often prepared to die for that cause…[and] unlikely to be deterred by the death penalty.” (See my background information from The American Civil Liberties Union etc.) )

  1. And then we have the work of Prof Michael Radelet, Chair, Department of Sociology, University of Colorado- Boulder, and Traci Lacock,  conducted in 2008. This was a survey of experts from the American Society of Criminology, the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, and the Law and Society Association.

The survey asked the expert opinions of the world’s leading criminologists whether empirical research (not their own views) “supports the contention that the death penalty is a superior deterrent. The findings demonstrate an overwhelming consensus among these criminologists that the empirical research conducted on the deterrence question strongly supports the conclusion that the death penalty does not add deterrent effects to those already achieved by long imprisonment.” ( ).
The findings are published in an article in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 99 (489-508) – entitled: “Do Executions Lower Homicide Rates? The Views of Leading Criminologists.” In the article, they state that the research reported was designed toupdate the 1996 study by Radelet and Akers who had surveyed 67 leading American criminologists on the issue of deterrence and the death penalty. The 2008 study also assessed “if any recent deterrence studies have modified the beliefs of the world’s leading criminologists. The results indicate that only a small minority to top criminologists – 10% or less, depending on how the question is phrased- believes that the weight of empirical research studies supports the deterrence justification for the death penalty.”

In this article they comment on a number of “widely-cited studies” conducted in the 6 years prior to the article, and written primarily by economists. These studies claimed to show the death penalty has deterrent effects that criminologists have not spotted (see Criminal Justice Legal Found, Articles on Death Penalty Deterrence, ( ).

Radelet and Lacock state that “the importance of the deterrence justification for capital punishment has declined precipitously in recent years among the general public. In the mid-twentieth century and up through the 1970s, it was unquestionably the top argument in favour of executions” p492. However, as they noted, in a Gallup Poll the proportion of respondents who stated that the death penalty was not a deterrent doubled by 2004, from 31% in 1985 to 62%. (p492).

A comparison of the results of Radelet’s and Akers’ 1996 survey and that of the 2008 survey of Radelet and Lacock, are as they say: “remarkably similar”.
88.2% of the polled criminologists stated that there is little empirical evidence from existing research to support the deterrent effect of the death penalty (up slightly from 83.6% in 1996). (5.3% believe it is deterrent vs 11.9% in 1996 survey).

Radelet and Lacock state in the above article: “Our survey indicates that the vast majority of the world’s top criminologists believe that the empirical research has revealed the deterrence hypothesis for a myth…the consensus among criminologists is that the death penalty does not add any significant deterrent effect above that of long-term imprisonment.”

90% of the criminologists polled said that the death penalty had little effect overall on the committing of murder.

Over 75% of those polled do not believe that increasing the number of executions, or decreasing the time spent on death row before execution, would produce a general deterrent effect.

91% said that politicians support the death penalty as a symbolic way to show they are tough on crime.

75% said that it distracts legislatures from focusing on real solutions to crime.

91.6% said that increasing the frequency of executions would not add a deterrent effect.

  1. There is also the result of a 1995 survey entitled: On the Front Line: Law Enforcement Views on the Death Penalty. The Death Penalty Information Center and commissioned Peter D. Hart Research Associates who in January 1995 (See: “conducted a national opinion poll of randomly selected police chiefs in the United States. In that poll, the chiefs had the opportunity to express what they believe really works in fighting crime. They were asked where the death penalty fit in their priorities as leaders in the law enforcement field.”

“Police chiefs ranked the death penalty last as a way of reducing violent crime, placing it behind curbing drug abuse, more police officers on the streets, lowering the technical barriers to prosecution, longer sentences, and a better economy with more jobs.”

Police Chiefs did not believe that murderers think about the range of possible punishments. Police Chiefs considered strengthening families and neighbourhoods, punishing criminals swiftly and surely, controlling illegal drugs, and gun control (to be) more important than the death penalty. The death penalty was rated as the least cost- effective method for controlling crime. They did not believe that the death penalty significantly reduces the number of homicides, nor did they believe that murderers think about the range of possible punishments.

  1. In the past few years, the governors of Washington, Colorado, and Oregonhave put a halt to executions in their states because of problems in the death penalty system. Below are some of the reasons they gave for their actions. (And see: for States where there is a hold on executions – for various reasons – on hold either by court or executive order).

Governor Jay Inslee, Washington, February 11, 2014

“Equal justice under the law is the state’s primary responsibility. And in death penalty cases, I’m not convinced equal justice is being served. The use of the death penalty in this state is unequally applied, sometimes dependent on the budget of the county where the crime occurred.”
“There are too many flaws in the system. And when the ultimate decision is death there is too much at stake to accept an imperfect system. ”
“When the majority of death penalty sentences lead to reversal, the entire system itself must be called into question.”

Governor John Hickenlooper, Colorado, May 22, 2013 
“If the State of Colorado is going to undertake the responsibility of executing a human being, the system must operate flawlessly. Colorado’s system for capital punishment is not flawless.”
“As one former Colorado judge said to us, ‘[The death penalty] is the result of happenstance, the district attorney’s choice, the jurisdiction in which the case is filed, perhaps the race of economic circumstance of the defendant.'”
“The death penalty is not making our world a safer or better place.”

Governor John Kitzhaber, Oregon, November 22, 2011: “I do not believe that those executions made us safer; and certainly they
did not make us nobler as a society.”
“The death penalty as practiced in Oregon is neither fair nor just; and it is
not swift or certain. It is not applied equally to all.”                                                              “I am convinced we can find a better solution that keeps society safe, supports the victims of crime and their families and reflects Oregon values.”

  1. A key issue to be considered in this discussion is the state of mindof those who commit murders. As Willie L. Williams, Police Chief, Los Angeles, CA said: “I am not convinced that capital punishment, in and of itself, is a deterrent to crime because most people do not think about the death penalty before they commit a violent or capital crime.”
  2. It is also worth noting that in the USA, where 31 States maintain the death penalty and 19 States and DC have abolished it, States without the death penalty have had consistently lower murder rates.

( On p.502 of Radelet’s and Lacocks article (see above), they state that “death penalty states have consistently higher homicide rates than non-death-penalty states. In 2007, for example, the homicide rate in states with active death penalty statutes was 42% higher than that of non-death-penalty states.”

“The South, which carries out over 80% of the executions in the US, has the highest murder rate of the four regions.” . One can say that this adds weight to the point that the death penalty is not a deterrent.

“In Canada, the homicide rate per 100,000 population fell from a peak of 3.09 in 1975, the year before the abolition of the death penalty for murder, to 2.41 in 1980. In 1993, 17 years after abolition, the homicide rate was 2.19 per 100,000 population, 27 per cent lower than in 1975.”

(…/asa330092013en.pdf ).

  1. Our response to crime in our region is a moral test for all of us. Any discussion of the death penalty must be considered in the context of, for example, nation-building, character development of citizens and so on. All countries in our region and in the world at large are grappling with challenges faced in producing comprehensive crime plans. But such plans are not created in a vacuum. We need crime plans based on evidence and evidence must be gathered from many sources because crime is a complex phenomenon that requires a multi-faceted/multi-sectoral approach. GCL believes that any approach that prioritises capital punishment as a crime reduction strategy is doomed to fail.

I firmly believe that these strategies, many of which were recommended by the UNDP in their 2012 report: Human development and the shift to better citizen security, can contribute to build safer, more democratic and just societies in the region. At the launch of the report in TT in Feb 2012, UNDP Administrator, Helen Clark stated:

“This report stresses the need to rethink our approaches to tackling crime and violence and providing security on the ground. We need to follow approaches that are centered on citizen security and address the causes of this recent increase in violent crime, including social, economic, and political exclusion.”
The Report reviewed “the current state of crime as well as national and regional policies and programmes to address the problem in seven English- and Dutch-speaking Caribbean countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.”

“Key recommendations from the Report: High rates of violent crime can be turned around by achieving a better balance between legitimate law enforcement and preventive measures, with a stronger focus on prevention;

Governments should create or invest more in units to address gender-based violence and adopt more preventive measures to ensure that violence against girls and women is no longer tolerated

Because crime harms social cohesion, Caribbean nations must better address youth violence and street gangs, whose crimes are rarely prosecuted

Public security requires community collaboration” (See above link for source).

In the final analysis, the Report stated that while “Crime has become one of the main challenges threatening economies and livelihoods in Caribbean countries…the right mix of policies and programmes can halt the problem.”

We continue to address the symptoms of crime and not the root causes. In spite of the billions of dollars that our countries allocate in annual national budgets for national security, citizens do not feel safe. Death and destruction continue to stalk our lands.

***In March 2015, Pope Francis said:  “For the rule of law, the death penalty represents a failure, as it obliges the state to kill in the name of justice… There is discussion in some quarters about the method of killing, as if it were possible to find ways of ‘getting it right.’ … But there is no humane way of killing another person.”

In conclusion, it is clear that the death penalty is not a deterrent. It is time that we acknowledge that this myth has been exposed. Political will is what is needed today. We need courageous, visionary leaders in our region who will develop their understanding of the nature of the problems we face in the region and who will be prepared to lift their heads above the parapet and speak out/act for what is right and just.

Rather than baying for blood, let’s all work with our respective governments to: strengthen family life; fix our broken institutions – including the re-engineering of the criminal justice system; devise and implement more effective victim support initiatives; invest in education, youth development and job creation; reduce poverty and socio-economic inequality; protect children from risk-factors related to crime; work to restore respect for law, life and human rights by e.g. promoting a renewed ethic of justice, responsibility and community.

Let us go forth from this Conference, strengthening our resolve to stop crime not lives; to build a death-penalty-free world!

I thank you.

Oct 2015 2

GCL Delegation in Guyana

13th World Day against the Death Penalty

The Greater Caribbean for Life (GCL) joins the global movement for the abolition of capital punishment on 10th October 2015 to commemorate the 13th World Day against the Death Penalty. This year’s theme is Drug Crimes.  The aim is to raise awareness of the need to reduce the use of the death penalty for drug-related offences.

Please click here to download the GCL MEDIA RELEASE – World Day 2015.

Please click here to download the Calendar of activities – World Day 2015 organised by GCL Members in the Caribbean region.


Speaking Tour – Jamaica 5/6 October

From Antigua, the abolitionist trio* headed to Jamaica to speak at a Public Forum at Campion College High School, Kingston Sunday afternoon. The audience of about 60 persons comprised mainly lawyers and students. Archbishop Dufour and Jamaican Attorney-at-Law and former Judge at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Margarette May Macaulay were also present.

The debate focused on issues surrounding the use of the death penalty, including questions regarding Mental Health, the theme of the 12th World Day. Leela Ramdeen drew attention to the situation of people with mental health problems who are at risk of a death sentence or execution. She shared information about the availability of materials on the WCADP website to support activities on World Day on 10 October, reminding the gathering that, as the WCADP states: “While opposing the death penalty absolutely, abolitionists are also committed to see existing international human rights standards implemented. Among these is the requirement that persons with mental illness or intellectual disabilities should not face the death penalty.”

Again, she urged governments to adopt more appropriate/durable strategies to prevent crime. She pointed to examples such as Suriname: a country in the region that is in the process of removing the death penalty from its criminal code.

The audience was touched by the powerful testimonies of Juan and Renny. Among emotional moments, was when Renny Cushing recounted how one day in court, someone pointed out to him the son of his father’s killer. Later the offender’s son and Renny found themselves alone and talked. The man started to apologise to Renny about his father’s act. Renny stopped him saying that he did not have to do so, as he had not committed the crime. 

Juan’s story was also a basis to highlight the myriad of injustices that form part of death penalty systems: the high risk of it being imposed on innocent persons, as well as its unfair and unequal application on the basis of race and class. Strong points were made underlining these inequalities. Leela Ramdeen reminded the gathering of the saying: “Capital punishment is for those with no capital”.

Photos Jamaica

On Monday 6 October, the abolitionist trio had a busy programme too. They appeared in the popular morning TV programme, Smile Jamaica, on TVJ; and on the morning radio show of Lloyd D’Aguilar. They then addressed Law Students at the Norman Manley law school. From the lively question and answer session, it is clear that the students generally have questions about the humanity of the death penalty and of its deterrence to crime. The Trio also met with Catholic Archbishop Charles Dufour who committed to take further action to address issues relating to the death penalty. Later in the afternoon, Juan Melendez and Renny Cushing had another radio interview with Dionne Jackson Miller.

This extensive Jamaican programme was put together thanks to the efforts of Dr. Lloyd Barnett, a member of GCL’s Executive, and IJCHR member, together with the team of the Independent Jamaican Council for Human Rights, and in collaboration with the Archdiocese.

Jam TV Show

GCL Speakers on TV Programme Smile Jamaica

* The trio of Speakers included:

  • Leela Ramdeen, Chair of GCL and also Chair of the Catholic Commission for Social Justice in Trinidad and Tobago;
  • Renny Cushing, member of the House of Representatives of the State of New Hampshire, USA, and founder and Executive Director of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights (an organization that comprises of families of murder victims who oppose capital punishment); and
  • Juan Melendez, a Puerto Rican who spent nearly 18 years on death row in Florida for a crime he did not commit. He was exonerated in 2002.


%d bloggers like this: