Trinidadians to hang for murder of former BBC newsreader

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The Independent US

Two men have been sentenced to death by hanging for killing three people, including a former BBC anchorwoman, during a robbery.

Lynette Lithgow Pearson, 51, a former presenter of BBC Midlands Today, was killed in Trinidad along with her mother Maggie Lee, 83, and brother-in-law John Cropper, 59, in December 2001. They were found gagged with their hands tied with electrical cord and their throats slit. The three were enjoying a tea party at the home which Mr Cropper, who is originally from Halsall, west Lancashire, shared with his wife Angela.

A jury in Port-of-Spain deliberated for an hour before delivering a guilty verdict against Daniel Agard, 21, and Lester Pitman, 26. The death sentence was announced shortly afterwards. The verdict came seven days after the London-based Privy Council reversed its 2003 ruling that Trinidad's mandatory death penalty for murder convictions was unconstitutional. The Privy Council serves as the final court of appeals for many former British colonies in the Caribbean.

Shortly before the verdict was announced, the judge asked the defendants if they had anything to say. Pitman replied that he was innocent. Agard said he had nothing to say.

The victims' relatives cried when the verdict was announced. They declined to comment afterwards, as did relatives of Agard and Pitman.

Agard and Pitman allegedly gave police statements implicating themselves, but later said police concocted the statements and coerced them into signing by promising them immunity. Police insisted the statements were made voluntarily.

Police found a fingerprint on a jewellery box in the house matching Agard's. Jurors were also shown a surveillance video of Agard withdrawing money from Cropper's bank account in the days after the murders.

A neighbour of the Croppers testified that she saw Pitman outside the house on the evening of the murders. Pitman said an accomplice called "Cudjoe" killed the victims, but police could not this person.

Trinidad has not hanged anyone since 1999. The Privy Council has blocked several executions in recent years, but last week, found that automatic death sentences were not in breach of Trinidad's constitution.