Published On: Fri, Feb 4th, 2022

Doing justice to Amy’s legacy

By Hilbert Haar

Since 2013, the European Human Rights Court has ruled several times that a life sentence without the possibility of review is inhumane. The Supreme Court has confirmed this point of view. In the Netherlands, a life sentence was really a life sentence. The only way to get out of prison was through the granting of a pardon. That happened for the last time in 1986.

The government has in the meantime aligned its policy with the rulings from the European Human Rights Court and the Dutch Supreme Court. Without that change it would not have been possible to impose life sentences anymore.

Since 2005, the Dutch legal system had imposed life sentences on several occasions. In 2005, Mohammed Bouyeri was sentenced to life imprisonment for stabbing filmmaker and columnist Theo van Gogh to death in Amsterdam. The most recent life sentence dates back to 2020 when the mentally challenged Gökman Tanis was sent away for shooting four people in a tram in Utrecht. There are now around thirty inmates in Dutch prisons serving life sentences.

However, they may not be there forever, because lifers are entitled to a review of their sentence after they have served 25 years. The Netherlands had an advisory committee for lifers in place, populated with jurists and social behavior scientists. The committee advises the minister of Justice whether a lifer can begin with activities aimed at a possible return to society.

Three factors play a role in these decisions: the development of the lifer during the previous 25 years, the risk that the inmate will commit similar crimes again and the opinion of surviving relatives of the victim(s) of their crimes.

Within two years after the review the King receives advice from the Minister of Justice, the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the judge who imposed the life sentence. Based on that advice, the King decides whether he will grant a pardon or not.

While the procedure in the Netherlands entitles lifers to a review of their sentence, it does not offer a guarantee for their release.

A similar procedure is in place in Sweden where the extreme-right terrorist Anders Breivik recently asked for early release after serving just ten years of his life sentence. While Breivik claimed that he had changed since his sentencing back in 2012 for killing 77 people in a shooting frenzy, he entered the court room presenting the Hitler-salute, while his clothing was peppered with notes containing extreme-right quotations. The court denied his release.

In Curacao, the court will take a decision on February 17 about the request by Ashton Lake for early release. In 1983, the then 21-year old Lake snatched, raped and killed 5-year old Amy Velasquez in St. Maarten. The 59-year old Lake has by now served 38 years of a life sentence. And the question is: should this man be released? By law, Lake is entitled to a review of his sentence.

Related article: Velasquez-family fiercely opposes early release for Amy’s killer Ashton Lake

If the judges assess his situation based on the reaction from the Velasquez-family alone, the outcome of this case would be clear: there is no way that Amy’s family will ever have any sympathy for the man who ruined their lives.

But the court has other factors to consider as well and those factors are based on the person Lake has become after all those years behind bars. Is there a risk that he will commit similar crimes again?

I do not know Ashton Lake and I have no idea what kind of person he has become over the past decades. To say that I seriously doubt that Lake is a very nice guy is probably the understatement of the century. The truth is that I don’t know.

What I do know is that the pain Lake has inflicted on the Velasquez-family is still there. The wounds are as raw as they were back in 1983. They say that time heals all wounds but that is bullshit. It doesn’t. And therefore, the only decision that does justice to the legacy of little Amy, is for the judges to deny Lake’s request for early release.

Please help by signing and sharing her petition online: https://www.change.org/p/justice-court-st-maarten-curacao-justice-for-amy-velasquez-brutally-raped-and-murdered-1983-in-st-maarten


Related article:
Velasquez-family fiercely opposes early release for Amy’s killer Ashton Lake