Citing the need for “the compassionate release” of prisoners who were aging, have terminal illnesses, have shown remorse for their crimes, or have cost the government upwards of $1 million by remaining in prison, Gov. Kenneth Mapp issued last week a list of 15 pardons and commutations.
A pardon includes full forgiveness of a crime once time is served, while commutations is a reduction in sentence. Generally, those receiving commutations are released with time served, but maintain their criminal records.
In a news release, Mapp said those granted clemency were selected from a pool of 100 applicants. In order to choose among them, he set up guidelines and received advice from a team including his chief legal counsel, the attorney general, director of Internal Revenue, police commissioner and Bureau of Corrections director.
Input from the V.I. Parole Board was also sought, along with comments from victims and surviving family members. Mapp said he also kept in mind federal guidelines on the release of elderly inmates who are: 65 years or older, suffer from chronic or serious medical condtions or deteriorating mental or physical health, or have served a least 50 percent of their sentence.
In this case, Mapp said three inmates are between the ages of 64 and 87 and have been in jail for more than 30 years at a cost of $1 million annually to the government.
“The truth of the matter is that there is no more punishment to be exacted or no more rehabilitation to be gained for these types of prisoners,” he said. “The political process for clemency is the best avenue to address this vexing problem.”
For those younger than 65, Mapp said he “gave serious consideration of mercy” to those who are serving their sentences, have shown remorse for their crimes, who have or are making positive contributions to society, who appear to be “fully rehabilitated,” or who seem to have learned from their mistakes.
The list of pardons includes at least two convicted of tax evasion: former St. Croix media mogul Jonathan Kalis Cohen and Colette Hackett-Brown. Damon John, who was found guilty by a jury of the 1992 murder of Henry Nibbs and sentenced to life in prison also was pardoned.
The case against Cohen began in April 2014 when it was reported that Cohen, sole owner of JKC Communications, Clara Communications and Radio 95, had failed to pay corporate and individual taxes. He was charged with failure to file taxes from 2004 through 2010.
The government alleged that Cohen and his corporations had collective gross income in excess of $10 million during the period of time and failed to pay taxes owed to the Virgin Islands government. The government alleged Cohen also failed to file gross receipts tax returns for the same period.
He was sentenced in 2017 to pay $800,000 in back taxes: $6,000 in monthly payments to be paid through the court registry, with the first payment due at the end of March 2017. One lump sum payment of $50,000 was due before the end of 2017 and another lump sum payment of $150, 000 before the end of 2018. The balance was to be paid in 2019 before Cohen was taken off probation. Whether those payments are affected by Mapp’s pardon is unclear.
Hackett-Browne was similarly arrested in 2010 along with five others suspected of organizing a tax fraud ring spanning from the territory to three U.S. states.
According to attorneys, Hackett-Browne and another accomplice stole the identities of seven local residents, most living on the streets or homeless, and used them to generate false return checks that were mailed to two P.O boxes under the accomplice’s name. Hackett-Browne, then a local BIR employee, would prepare the documents, while her accomplice would get the checks signed by the same people whose identity had been stolen in exchange for a cut of the money, court documents said.
John, meanwhile, is one on the list who was serving a life sentence for a murder that his family and friends have maintained he did not commit. When John was sentenced in the early 90’s, his family released a video documenting his story and, since Mapp announced that John was a candidate for clemency, recently re-released it.
At the time of his conviction, John was 20 years old, and, according to friends and family, had “never met, come into contact with, or talked to” victim Henry Nibbs.
Also pardoned were: Delriese Hamilton, Julian Industrius, Princeton S. Jameson and David Lockhart.
Commutations also were issued for: Henry Bradshaw (who is now subject to “immediate deportation” by the U.S. government, according to the release,) Charles Felix, Mark Kihg, Juan Martinez, Maxwell McIntosh, Roberto Rojas Smalls and Reuben Vigilant (also subject to deportation.)