By NIGEL CLEMENT
Twenty-five years have gone. But it still remains in the minds of many how Glen Ashby was hanged at the Port-of-Spain State Prison while his final appeal was before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London.
In fact, when prison officers went to Death Row and informed Ashby to get ready for the hangman, he laughed at them and continued sucking a mango. Ashby had to be literally dragged to the Gallows.
Ashby’s hanging was the then PNM Government’s response to the murder of two Westmoorings housewives three days earlier. That double killing caused the elite in society to march to the official residence of then Prime Minister Patrick Manning in St Ann’s.
Ashby was sentenced to death on July 20, 1989, for the murder of BWIA pilot, Kemraj Singh at Caroni.
Ashby had lost his criminal appeals before the local Court of Appeal and the Privy Council. When the death warrant was read to him, he caused the High Court to stop the execution.
Lawyers for Ashby took no chances. While the constitutional motion was before the Court of Appeal, they petitioned the Privy Council. Ashby’s execution was set for 6.40 a.m. on Thursday, July 14th, 1994, at Port-of-Spain State Prison – six days before the deadline in Pratt and Morgan was up.
As he was being forced towards the Gallows, the Privy Council sent a fax to Trinidad ordering a stay of execution to allow him to lodge a second appeal. But no one took the fax to the Gallows. Poor Ashby, he was hanged.
Few people, except Amnesty International lawyers in Trinidad, were seriously upset by this administrative blunder. The authorities had been desperate to hang Ashby because he had also murdered a prison officer, although he had never been tried for that offence.
Ashby was arrested on June 17, 1988. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in the Port-of Spain Assizes Court on July 20, 1989. The Court of Appeal of Trinidad and Tobago dismissed his appeal on January 20, 1994. On July 6, 1994, the Privy Council dismissed Ashby’s subsequent application for special leave to appeal.
All available domestic remedies within the meaning of the Optional Protocol had been exhausted. The prosecution’s case rested mainly on the testimony of one S. Williams, who had driven Ashby and one R. Blackman to the house where the crime was committed.
This witness testified that before entering the victim’s house with Blackman, Ashby had a penknife in his hand. Furthermore, he testified that Ashby, after having left the house with Blackman and having entered the car, had said he had “cut the man with the knife”. This testimony was corroborated by the evidence of the pathologist, who concluded that the cause of death had been a stab wound to the neck. In addition to that, Ashby made oral statements as well as written statements admitting that he had killed the victim.
The defence challenged the credibility of the testimony of S. Williams and maintained that Ashby was innocent. It submitted that there was clear evidence that Williams was himself an accomplice to the crime; that Ashby had not carried a penknife; that it was Blackman who had sought to involve Ashby in the crime and that he had been beaten by a police officer after his arrest and had made a subsequent statement only after being promised that he could return home if he gave the statement.
Efforts continued throughout the night of 13 to 14 July 1994 to obtain a stay of execution for Ashby, both before the Court of Appeal of Trinidad and Tobago and before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London. The Judicial Committee issued a stay order shortly after 11.30 a.m. London time (6.30 a.m. Trinidad and Tobago time) on 14 July. But it never reached the prison authorities until 7 am. Ashby was hanged at 6.50 a.m.
At the time of his execution, the Court of Appeal of Trinidad and Tobago was also in session, deliberating on the issue of a stay order.
At the time Ashby was hanged, Keith Sobion was the Attorney General, and Russell Huggins, the Minister of National Security.
Many are convinced the then Government moved on Ashby as a response to the double murder in Westmoorings.
Two persons were subsequently held for the murders. Chuck Attin, 16, and Noel Seepersad, 25, were convicted on February 7, 1997, of the murders of housewives Candace Scott and Karen Sa Gomes, on July 11, 1994 at Westmoorings.
Attin, who was deemed a juvenile, was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment, while Seepersad got the death sentence.
It was later discovered that Ashby had a petition pending before the United Nations Human Rights Committee when he was executed. Amnesty International felt that the TT Government should have waited for the Committee’s decision in accordance with its obligations under the (First) Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Many felt that because of the rising crime rate, the then Government was keen to deliver a hanging.
After the hanging Amnesty International’s Secretary-General wrote to the then Prime Minister, Patrick Manning, condemning it as a “flagrant violation of both Trinidad and Tobago law and its obligations under human rights treaties”.
The Human Rights Committee expressed dismay that Trinidad and Tobago had ignored its treaty obligations. In addition, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions reported Glen Ashby had been hanged “while appeal procedures were still pending”. He listed the case as an issue of “special concern”.
And an independent panel, including Caribbean jurists, concluded in Barbados that Ashby had been hanged illegally and that there was sufficient evidence for Keith Sobion to be cited for contempt of court. No action was ever taken, however.