Scot fac­ing US mur­der charge ‘will die in jail if he is ex­tra­dited’

Hu­man Rights judges told of fears over Florida prison

The Herald - - NEWS - JACK MCGRE­GOR

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.

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