Although convicted murderer Renell Lettsome was slapped with a total sentence of 57 and a half years, a major “quirk” in the V.I. Code required V.I. Superior Court Judge Brenda Hollar to only impose two and a half years for the attempted murder in the second degree charge.
“I have a big problem with respect to attempted murder in the second degree,” Hollar said during Lettsome’s sentencing hearing on Monday, September 18. “A two and a half year sentence for that charge is a crime in itself.”
Hollar urged Assistant Attorney General Kelly Evans, who represented the government in the case, to alert the legislature to the “quirk.”
Sentences for lesser charges are greater than the second-degree attempted murder charge, Hollar explained.
“The sentence is less for second-degree attempted murder than for third degree-assault,” she said. “Because the legislature refuses to put a maximum on second-degree murder, I have no choice. Lesser charges have five times higher penalties.”
The sentence for murder in the first degree is life in prison without parole and the sentence for second-degree murder is open-ended and left up to the judge to decide.
Since there is no maximum sentence for second-degree murder, the general statute must be referred to for attempted second-degree murder – which is five years. Thus, half of the general statute – two and a half years — is the maximum sentence that can be imposed for attempted murder in the second degree.
At least one politician has taken notice of the quirk, according to Senator at Large Craig Barshinger.
“I am going to take to heart the comments of Judge Hollar and revise the sentences that are in the law in order to correct the deficiencies that Judge Hollar noted in her sentencing of Lettsome,” he said.
Despite the legislative snafu, the senator said he believes the sentence given to Lettsome was appropriate.
“Although most second-degree charges are accompanied by other charges like assault, it’s clear that under certain circumstances this loop hole could have serious repercussions,” the senator said.