Life in prison, that's the penalty that Justice Antoinette Moore handed down to the convicted murderers: William "Danny" Mason, Ashton Vanegas, Keiron Fernandez, Terrence Fernandez, and Ernest Castillo.

The sentence is the stiffest we have seen coming out of the court in many years, and the judge said that it had to fit the heinous crime that these men were convicted of, which is the 2016 beheading murder of Pastor Lewellyn Lucas.

This morning, 7News was at court for the judge's careful examination of her reasons for coming to this decision, and Daniel Ortiz has that story:

A crowd gathered outside the courthouse today to see the last perp walk in a while by Danny Mason and co.

They appeared expressionless as they descended the courthouse stairs - especially for men who had been given a life sentence.

William "Danny" Mason, Ashton Vanegas, Keiron Fernandez, Terrence Fernandez, and Ernest Castillo were all sentenced to life in prison for the heinous, decapitating murder of Pastor Lewellyn Lucas.

The defendants - minus Ernest Castillo - will all have to serve 35 years in jail before they are eligible for parole. Castillo, who was the youngest of the convicted killers, will become eligible for parole 5 years earlier than the rest because he was only 20 years old at the time of Pastor Lue's beheading.

After waiting for 4 years, and enduring the pain of his untimely death, Pastor Lucas' family and friends have finally been given the justice so many grieving families demand when the loss of life is fresh.

Thisbe Usher - Sister of Deceased

"My extended family, the friend of Lue, we are satisfied. Nothing about the entire ordeal would be allowed us to be happy. But, I can certainly say that we are satisfied with the sentence that has been delivered here today. The impact has been long, large, and wide. My mother, being an elderly person, she relieves this murder of her son. Whenever there is a death in our family, she keeps speaking of Lue, and his head being found in a bucket, full of blood. For myself, my children, we have definitely experienced grief which I cannot find the words to explain, but certainly, it has been extremely difficult."

Bryan Neal - Attorney for Keiron Fernandez

"The Sentence is 35 years eligibility for parole, which is at the higher end of the sentences I have seen in our jurisdiction."

Reporter

"Was it anticipated, sir?"

Bryan Neal

"It was. It was, and I had prepared and advised my client adequately. The crime was particularly heinous, in terms of the beheading, and the judge in her ruling a short while ago made the point that she wants to send a message out in this society, to try to quell the violence that we're seeing in our society. So, I think that all considering all that we know that transpired in this case, I think it seems an appropriate sentence."

Norman Rodriguez - Attorney for Ashton Vanegas

"Justice allows the judge to decide what the penalty will be, but as you ask if I expected that. I can't say that I expected it, or [I] did not expect it. It is a possibility for us always, and when it comes, I can tell you that I am not surprised because the judge decides, not me. For Pastor Lue's family members who sat in the trial from start to finish, they have taken note of the fact that none of the 5 convicted men have accepted responsibility for his murder."

Thisbe Usher

"Considering the fact that none of them accepted guilty for having participated in the crime, that speaks volumes. The first step toward rehabilitation is acceptance, and none of them, not 1 of the 5 have accepted that they participated in my brother's murder."

And the reason for not conceding guilt is most likely because some of the defendants intend to appeal the conviction.

Norman Rodriguez

"My client has indicated that he wants to appeal. I believe that he should still take a little time to reflect on what has happened here. And when he makes his final decision, he has the 21 days to file that notice, and that is what we will do if that is his instructions to me."

Bryan Neal

"I understand from the clients that they are dissatisfied with both the conviction and the sentence, and they will shortly lodge an appeal and have lodged an appeal in terms of their conviction already."

Reporter

"Sir, is that the reason why your clients did not accept any culpability in their statements, that they maintain their innocence and will take that to appeal?"

Bryan Neal

"That is so. You raise a good point because, in mitigation, you're walking a very tight rope. On the one hand, you're asking the court to merciful because you feel that certain things were not considered. But on the other hand, you also have to acknowledge that you did something that you are saying that you have to appeal that you didn't do. So, it's a very difficult, tight rope to walk, and obviously, the judge felt, in her summing up just now, that they did not walk that rope the correct way. For my part, the devil knoweth not the heart of man. So, I don't know whether [or not] they were remorseful, but the judge has said that she doesn't feel that they expressed the amount of remorse that they did. And that will be a live issue on appeal."

For the family, they have closure. This is just the first stage for these defendants, for these convicted men. There are two other stages, and they intend to appeal court, as far as they have said to me.

The sentencing started at 11:00 and finished at around 12:30 at the Belize City Supreme Court.

So, to recap, all 5 convicted persons have been sentenced to life in prison. In Ernest Castillo's case, he is the only defendant out of the 5 who will have to serve 30 years before becoming eligible for parole. Because he was only 20 years old at the time of Pastor Lue's murder, the judge has taken his age and the possibility for rehabilitation into consideration. Also because he has been remanded for 4 years while he awaited trial, that amount of time will be deducted from his sentence, which means that he will have to serve 26 more years.

And, again, all the other 4 have been sentenced to life in prison, but they become eligible for parole after 35 years.

Danny Mason turned 50 earlier this month, and with 4 years off for time served, he would be 81 years old after that 35 year sentence.


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