Lawyers battle to save lives of killers

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LAWYERS for two convicted murderers due to be executed today in the Bahamas were last night still desperately seeking last minute reprieves for the men, after all legal avenues had apparently been exhausted.

Trevor Fisher, 28, and Richard Woods, 51, will hang at 8am today local time (1pm British time) unless the lawyers can force a stay of execution. The cases of both men are being considered by an American human-rights group, and decisions on both are expected within two weeks.

"But that might be too late," Katrina Mottee, of the London firm Burton Copeland which is representing Woods, said yesterday. The only hope for the two men is if lawyers in the Bahamas can mount an overnight court action to force the government to wait.

The case of Fisher was highlighted last week when his appeal to the Privy Council in London was rejected, removing the last formal barrier against his execution. A plea for clemency to the Bahamian authorities was turned down days later.

The cases of the two men are linked because they are being considered together by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Lawyers are asking for their sentences to be delayed until the commission delivers its decision.

Fisher was convicted of murder in 1994 for his involvement in an armed robbery in which a man was shot dead. Fisher was found to have pulled the trigger. Woods was convicted of the murder of his niece and of the attempted murder of a friend in 1995, and had his appeals against the death sentence rejected the following year. Execution is mandatory for all cases of murder under Bahamian law.

Adela Williams, a solicitor for a City firm, Cameron McKenna, representing Fisher, said: "The Bahamian government have accepted that they have an obligation to consider any recommendations made by the Inter-American Commission.

"It is well known that there is public support for the death penalty in the Bahamas but it seems that the government of the Bahamas is reacting to short-term public opinion rather than honouring their international obligations."

Other Caribbean countries such as Jamaica have a classification system for capital offences, applying the death penalty in specified circumstances. The decision by the Privy Council, however, to dismiss Fisher's appeal, opened the door for the Bahamian government to issue a warrant of execution last Saturday.

Death-penalty cases from the Caribbean are sometimes referred to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as a last court of appeal. Numbers have been growing as a number of former British colonies have decided to carry out death penalties in the face of rising crime rates and public pressure.

The cases of two Trinidadian men are under consideration by the Privy Council. A decision is expected within the next two months. A further six appeals are due to be heard by the Council before Christmas.