Wed | Dec 7, 2016

Home at last! Man facing life sentence because of judge's error finally freed

Published:Sunday | December 21, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Wilburn Purcell

Barbara Gayle, Justice Coordinator

"I feel as if I am in heaven." Those were among the first words from Wilburn Purcell after he walked out of the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre a free man.

The 58-year-old had spent an extra 21 years in prison because of a judge's error and was only freed after Governor General Sir Patrick Allen heeded his plea for mercy.

"It seems as if I am in foreign," declared Purcell as he journeyed to the downtown Kingston offices of Queen's Counsel K. Churchill Neita, who had heard of his case and had written to the governor general highlighting the injustice.

"The whole country change," remarked Purcell, as he spoke of the many changes he observed, such as the toll road and other developments. "When I come out, I feel that is foreign I come, because there are so many changes in the country."

While thanking Neita and Sir Patrick, Purcell added, "I am also thankful to my friend 'Sonna' and The Sunday Gleaner for making my plea for freedom public."

'Sonna', whose correct name is Leroy Simmonds, is a former death row inmate who told Neita of the misfortune of Purcell, whom he had met in prison.

FATHER OF THREE

Purcell, who is the father of three children, said he was happy to be home with his family, friends and relatives for Christmas. He said people whom he knew before he went to prison were happy to see him survive what he described as "an awful life in prison".

He issued a stern warning to the youth of Jamaica not to do anything stupid to end up in prison. "Crime is the biggest disease in the country," said Purcell, as he lamented the absence of rehabilitation activities in the island's prisons.

"Too many young men are just locked up in prison without even learning a skill or doing any form of worthwhile activity," said the man who spent time in the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre, the St Catherine District Prison, and the Gun Court Rehabilitation Centre.

He charged that prisoners are living in inhumane conditions and argued that the State is creating monsters based on the conditions in the prisons.

Now that he is out of prison, Purcell said he was considering several options to move on with his life in a positive direction.

"I cannot think about the years I have lost, but have to move on because if you don't think positive then you don't get positive action."

Determined to help him, Neita is in the
process of applying to the Government for an ex
gratia
payment for Purcell. "He must be compensated for the
extra years he spent in prison," said Neita.

A judge
had incorrectly ordered Purcell, who was 37 years old in 1993, to serve a
mandatory life sentence for gun offences, although there was an
amendment to the law in the 1980s for specific years of imprisonment to
be given for such offences.

Purcell was found guilty
on December 13, 1978 of illegal possession of firearm and robbery with
aggravation and sentenced to a mandatory life
imprisonment.

On July 31, 1987, Purcell was granted
parole, but while on parole, he was convicted in February 1993 for
illegal possession of firearm and robbery with aggravation. He was
sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment, which expired in
2002.

During the sentencing hearing in 1993, it was
brought to the judge's attention that Purcell had violated his parole.
The judge ordered that he should also serve the mandatory life
imprisonment for the offences for which he was convicted and sentenced
in 1978.

However, there was a change to the law in the
1980s, which abolished the mandatory sentence.

The
amendment to the law paved the way for the review of the cases of more
than 400 prisoners who were serving mandatory life sentences for gun
offences. However, Purcell's case was not reviewed.