Scot facing US murder charge ‘will die in jail if he is extradited’
Human Rights judges told of fears over Florida prison
LAWYERS for a Scot wanted in Florida on first degree murder charges – whose extradition case is believed to be longest in UK history – say he will die in prison if he is sent back America.
The legal team for Phillip Harkins have made a final appeal to the European Court of Human Rights as part of a 14-year case that could prevent all similar removals to the US in future.
The 38-year-old, who moved with his family to the United States when he was 14, is wanted for allegedly shooting dead Joshua Hayes during an attempted armed robbery in Jacksonville.
He was arrested for the crime but skipped bail.
His location was not known until he was arrested for killing Jean O’Neill, 62, in a car crash in Eldon Street, Greenock, in 2003. He was convicted of causing death by dangerous driving and jailed for five years.
Since then he has been on remand at HMP Belmarsh in London as a result of the continuing extradition battle, which is the longest-running case of its kind.
This week his legal team made their final appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in an attempt to prevent his transfer to the States to stand trial.
Judges heard his final appeal at the court in Strasbourg, where it was argued that if he is convicted he will receive a life sentence with no prospect of parole. His lawyers say that would violate the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
US prosecutors have assured the UK Government he would not be executed. However, Florida imposes either the death penalty or life imprisonment without parole on anyone convicted of murder in the course of a robbery even if it was not premeditated.
Harkins’s defence lawyer, Edward Fitzgerald, QC, said: “On conviction, the court would have no option but to sentence him to the mandatory sentence of life without parole for an offence committed at the age of 20, [which] is intended to ensure he will die in prison.
“The system in Florida is not intended to offer the prisoner any hope of earning release by his progress.”
Mr Fitzgerald added that the chances of his client, who denies being at the scene of the crime, being released after conviction are “so low as to be non-existent”.
James Eadie, QC, on behalf of the UK Government, which is supporting the US in its extradition bid, said a failure to extradite would be “a handsome reward for flight”.
He added: “This, we say, is a troubling case. The applicant is accused of a brutal murder in the United States. The system in Florida did allow for the sentence to be reduced ... and on this basis we respectfully invite the court to declare this application inadmissible under Article 35 or alternatively to dismiss it on the merits under Article 3.”
The 18-strong panel of judges has retired to consider the evidence and will make a ruling at a later date.
In 2012, the ECHR decided extradition would not violate Article 3. Harkins applied again in November 2014 after European judges ruled the year before that whole-life sentences were unlawful in a separate case related to jailed murderers in England. GALLERY assistant Wietske Veenhuis peers through an exhibit by the Danish artist Lise Bech, who specialises in basket making from willow.
Bech, who lives in the Southern Uplands, grows her own willow, which is now featuring at the Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh.
She fell in love with the practice after being taught how to weave baskets in her former home of Northern Ireland. She took some willow with her to Scotland, and has developed a passion for the art.
The piece of work, pictured, is entitled Celtic Knot Large and is part of Bech’s exhibition called Woven Landscape, which runs at the Dundas Street venue until January 23. Picture: Gordon Terris
‘‘ This, we say, is a troubling case. The applicant is accused of a brutal murder in the United States
PHILLIP HARKINS: He skipped bail and fled to Scotland.