Men heard trial drops as they waited for death: Condemned inmates lived in 'inhuman' conditions. Heather Mills reports

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The Independent Online
THREE times Earl Pratt and Ivan Morgan were taken to the condemned cell within sight and sound of the gallows in Jamaica's notorious St Catherine's prison.

There they were weighed, so the hangman could make their forthcoming deaths quick and efficient. They listened to practice drops. They were taunted by guards.

Three times they were reprieved - once just 45 minutes before they were due to be executed - and returned to death row. They have languished there for the past 14 years, in conditions described by their solicitor, Saul Lehrfreund, as appalling. They are kept in virtual isolation, confined to their 6ft by 6ft cell for 23 hours a day. Bedding is a sheet of foam on the floor; there is no furniture and no artifical lighting; the lavatory is a plastic bucket, emptied once a day. In the Jamaican heat, the stench is overwhelming.

They have seen fellow death row inmates go to the gallows and have seen others crack under the strain. The two men have been near 'emotional collapse' and 'despair bordering on panic', but, according to lawyers, pyschiatric and medical treatment are unavailable to death row inmates.

It was because detention under such grim circumstances for such a prolonged period amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, that the Privy Council yesterday reprieved them once and for all.

But concerns over their case, and indeed the dozens of others on Jamaica's death row, go much further. A committee of inquiry appointed to investigate the death penalty in Jamaica, and conditions of condemned men, reported in 1986 that between 10 and 20 per cent were not guilty.

Pratt and Morgan have always maintained their innocence of the murder of Anthony Missick, a 17-year-old whose body was found in a river outside Kingston, on 6 October 1977. Pratt, then 18, and Morgan 21, were arrested later the same day.

The prosecution centred on the evidence of one man who said he had witnessed the shooting. Poor identification evidence has been cited as the cause of several potential miscarriage of justice cases, in a country keen for retribution as it has the highest murder rate per capita in the world.

Like most of those on death row, Pratt and Morgan relied upon state-aided defence, which means payment to lawyers of about 100 Jamaican dollars - the equivalent of pounds 3 a day. As a leading British human rights lawyer said: 'There is not much incentive for lawyers to take up the death row cases or put too much work in.' Consequently, British human rights lawyers - such as the team representing Pratt and Morgan - have now for many years given their services free to death row inmates.

In the Pratt and Morgan case, the jury took only two minutes to convict the pair of murder after a four-day trial. They were sentenced to death on 15 January 1979.

Then began the long delays, that the Law Lords yesterday condemned. Their appeal was heard in September the following year, but the Jamaican Court of Appeal did not give its reasons until 1984, 45 months later.

Yesterday's ruling will force authorities to enforce their death penalties swiftly - providing there are proper safeguards and all appeals are exhausted - or not at all.

But Mr Lehrfreund said the judgment was 'tinged with sadness because, last Sunday, four death row inmates were killed and eight injured in St Catherine's, in what Dennis Daly, a leading human rights lawyer in Jamaica, has described as 'very suspicious circumstances'.