By David Rowe
Retired Senior Superintendent Anthony Hewitt was shot dead by gunmen last week in Kingston.
This was very bad news for Jamaica’s law enforcement community and the international agencies with whom they cooperate. It was a virtual kick in the teeth to the Rule of Law in Jamaica. With an economy buoyed by tourism receipts, Jamaica has a significant interest in the meticulous preservation of the Rule of Law in the country.
In what seemed to be a singularly professional hit, retired Senior Superintendant Hewitt died in a hail of gunfire from individuals who reportedly jumped in an escape car and rapidly left the scene.
It is now clear to commentators that murders in Jamaica that were restricted to the inner city have definitively moved uptown. Now all Jamaicans, including doctors, lawyers and senior police officers are susceptible to lethal, unanticipated attack.
This is a serious problem as Senior Superintendent Hewitt’s death means that the number of murders in Jamaica since January has exceeded 800 —only Jamaica is not at war.
While being an effective sleuth, Senior Superintendent Hewitt commanded the respect of both defendants and colleagues alike.
At the time of his death, Senior Superintendant Hewitt was advising the Firearm Licensing Authority, which has administrative responsibility for the issuance of licensed firearms to individuals in Jamaica.
Early in his career Senior Superintendant Hewitt spent his time in the country’s Criminal Investigation Bureau before becoming the head of the famous gang busting Flying Squad.
During the 1970s, Hewitt led a number of anti-crime incursions into the Wareika Hills area, where he came under fire from assault weapons.
Jurists remember his extensive cache of diaries in which he kept lists of individuals who were known to be involved in Kingston’s criminal activity, long before the computer age.
But from Hewitt’s death comes the question: should Jamaica start imposing the death penalty on those convicted of murder? The statutes make death obligatory for intentional pre-meditated murder, but the current backlogged appeal procedures make it almost impossible for Jamaica to execute anyone within 10 years after conviction.
Slow executions have been invalidated by the famous Privy Council case of Pratt and Morgan; therefore many individuals linger on Death Row, unsure of their eventual fate.
To make matters even more complicated, Jamaica belongs to international protocols which seem to militate against the imposition of the death penalty.
The Gallows at Spanish Town are “up and working” according to the Commissioner of Prisons. They have not been used since the 1980s.
But will our Government have the political will to allow the law to take its course, as the land of “wood and water” increasingly becomes the land of “murder and mayhem”?
Public opinion seems to be drifting towards the death penalty, and there has been an upsurge of vigilante killings of suspected criminals in rural communities.
Crime was discussed at the People’s National Party Conference last weekend with the delegates giving the party a clear mandate to get the crime under control.
Senior Superintendent Hewitt’s assassination underscores this mandate.
David P Rowe is an attorney in Jamaica and Florida and a law professor at the University of Miami School of Law in Coral Gables, Fla.
Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal Op-Eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.