By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
A MAN who stabbed a Cable Bahamas technician to death as he tried to protect his 10-year-old daughter during a home invasion on Grand Bahama 17 years ago has had almost 20 years shaved off his 60-year sentence.
Appellate President Sir Hartman Longley, along with fellow Justices Stella Crane-Scott and Milton Evans, said Leslie Webster will now serve 41 years from the date of conviction in 2005 for murdering Garfield Wright in May of 2001.
The appellate court initially substituted a 45-year sentence for Webster, asserting the original sentence was “unduly harsh” and that the new one represents the “appropriate sentence” that “ought to have been imposed for the offence”.
However, in keeping with the appellate court’s recent decision in the case of Anthony Evans, whose life sentence for killing former Cabinet minister Charles “Chuck” Virgil was reduced to 40 years, the appellate judges said Webster’s 45-year sentence should be further reduced by four years.
That further reduction, the appellate judges stated, is “compensation” to Webster for the “unnecessary institutional and systematic delays” that adversely impacted the “timely hearing and disposition of his appeal” that has been in the court’s remit since 2012.
As a result, Webster, who is in his late 50s, has already served 13 years of his new sentence, with 28 more to go behind bars.
According to the Court of Appeal ruling, on the night of May 7, 2001, Webster broke into Wright’s home situated in Fiddler’s Green in Freeport looking for something to steal.
While inside the home, Webster held Wright’s daughter at knifepoint and a struggle ensued between Webster and the deceased.
Wright, a 40-year-old line technician, was stabbed 16 times and killed as he tried to protect his daughter from the intruder.
Webster was later linked to the crime scene through DNA taken from fingernail clippings and a confession statement after he was arrested by police.
He was unanimously convicted by a jury in March 2005 and was subsequently sentenced to death, but following an appeal in 2003, he was ordered to be retried.
Webster’s second trial took place in 2005 before then-Supreme Court Justice Jon Isaacs, now an appellate judge. On March 18, 2005, Webster was again convicted of murder and sentenced to death.
He appealed once again to the Court of Appeal, which dismissed his appeal and affirmed his conviction and mandatory death sentence.
Webster then applied to the London-based Privy Council as a financially assisted person for permission to appeal the Court of Appeal’s decision. On November 17, 2009, the Privy Council refused Webster’s appeal against conviction, but granted his petition for leave to appeal against sentence.
The Privy Council subsequently allowed his appeal against the mandatory death sentence and remitted the matter to the Supreme Court for an appropriate sentence to be imposed.
The re-sentencing took place before Justice Isaacs on February 10, 2012, after which Webster was sentenced to 60 years in prison for murder, with the sentence to run from the date of his conviction in 2005.
Webster subsequently appealed that decision by Justice Isaacs.
He appeared before a single appellate judge, former appellate Justice Christopher Blackman, on April 20, 2012. An order was made for the production of the re-sentencing transcript and for him to be assigned an attorney at the Crown’s expense. The matter was ordered to be resisted whenever those matters were put in place.
However, the matter apparently “dropped off the proverbial radar” and only resurfaced after Webster wrote a series of letters to the court on May 4, 2014; June 22, 2015; and August 2015.
Webster then appeared before a full panel for status hearings on a number of occasions during 2016 and 2017 before the appeal was adjourned without a date on September 6, 2017.
However, subsequent to Webster’s letters to the court on March 5 and June 9 of this year, his matter was brought up once again before a full panel, which heard submissions on the appeal on three days earlier this month.
As a result of those submissions, the appellate judges ruled that Webster’s appeal against his 60-year sentence “must be allowed” on the basis that “it was wrong in principle” and was “unduly severe”.
Conversely, the court substituted a 45-year sentence, which it deemed appropriate for the offence.
However, that sentence was further reduced by four years, as compensation for the “systematic” issues that led to the delay of his appeal.
“Since the filing of his appeal, the appellant, through no fault of his, has had to endure the burden of a 60-year sentence not knowing if and when his appeal would be heard,” the appellate judges wrote. “We consider the delay completely unacceptable and he should be compensated for it with a further reduction of the sentence.”