A case in point

2016-10-23 06:00


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When Clinton Houston was sentenced to 40 years in jail in 1998 for two of three murders he committed while on a Mandrax-fuelled robbery spree, Judge Chris Nicholson spared him a life sentence, saying it would be “inappropriate” to impose the most severe sentence of all as there was still a chance for the Durban addict to be rehabilitated.

Houston, then in his early twenties, was already serving a 30-year sentence – imposed on him the year before by another Durban High Court judge, Gerald Alexander – for stabbing Kevin Bloxham to death while trying to force him to reveal the PIN for his bank card during the first of several robberies he committed.

Two weeks after killing Bloxham, Houston killed two other young men in another frenzied robbery, before his one-man crime wave came to an end.

However, Judge Nicholson’s act of mercy has had unintended negative implications for Houston, whose sentences run consecutively, as he is not permitted to apply for parole despite having already served a life sentence, which in real terms is 20 years.

In effect, Houston would have found it easier to get parole had either judge sentenced him to life, rather than a determinate sentence.

Now Houston is preparing a legal challenge to the parole regulations that he claims are “unconstitutional and irrational” in the High Court in Pietermaritzburg, after the Durban High Court two years ago ruled that he had a right to a Legal Aid lawyer to challenge the way in which the parole system works.

The ruling, by Judge Alex Jeffrey, came in response to a petition that Houston, a high school dropout whose first recorded criminal act was an arrest for theft in 1984, had brought by himself with no assistance from a lawyer.

Houston had asked the court to intervene and issue an order compelling the Legal Aid Board to provide him with legal assistance to bring about the challenge.

Houston’s application, which is being brought by Durban Advocate Jacqui Gates, will argue that the system, which in effect only allows him to apply for parole in 2020, is flawed because of this contradiction. 

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