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Free Mario!

02 November 2018

By Daisy Catherine L. Mandap

This issue we again print a contribution from Mario delos Reyes, one of our most prolific and best-informed contributors, who just happens to be in Stanley Prison, serving a life sentence for murder.

Mario has been in jail for nearly 25 years. He had hoped that given his exemplary record in prison he could be freed shortly after spending 20 years in the maximum-security prison, but this did not happen.

Under Hong Kong’s laws, life-termers like Mario could apply with the Long-Term Prison Sentence Review Board to give them a fixed sentence so they could eventually be set free. And normally, such applications are made when a long-term prisoner has passed the 20-year mark.

A case in point was local man Ho Tung-sing, who was arrested last May for his involvement in a brazen robbery in Tsim Sha Tsui. It was later revealed that 60-year-old Ho had been involved in a series of violent robberies three decades ago for which he got 17 life sentences. But following a review, his indeterminate sentence was fixed at a minimum of 20 years, and as a result, he was released in 2014.

Mario has been trying for the past five years to get the Review Board to also hear his plea for a fixed term, to no avail. In the last hearing of his application in July last year, the Board said it was convinced that the period he had served was “insufficient in all the circumstances to warrant consideration for early release.”

This was despite the many testimonials submitted by various people urging for Mario’s early release, including Catholic Chaplain Patrick Colgan and several other leaders from the church, civil society and other sectors, including this writer.

Fr. Colgan said the Board’s decision that Mario had not served enough jail time was “astonishing,” given his spotless record in detention and his positive behavior and demeanor.

“Until when will the period served be deemed to be ‘sufficient’? What internationally recognized criteria are used for this? It is quite bewildering to both inmate and those, like chaplains, to assist you and the CSD in his rehabilitation, to be offered such a statement, with no reasons given?” said Colgan in an impassioned letter he sent to the Board.

His frustration was understandable, for there could be no better model prisoner than Mario. Not only has he managed to stick to prison rules during his long confinement, he has also put his time inside to good use, reading all materials he could lay his hands on, and taking up all the free courses offered to inmates.

“Kung may law course lang na offered, siguro abugado na ako ngayon,” (If a law course was offered, I would have been a lawyer by now), he said wryly in one of the many letters he has sent us through the years, all done in his neat, cursive handwriting.

Mario’s compassionate nature is also shown by his effort to cheer up female prisoners, mostly those jailed for acting as drug couriers. Through his encouragement, a number of them have also submitted articles to us to speak about their ordeal, and to warn others about the dangers of getting involved in the drug trade.

But beyond Mario’s good nature and achievements inside jail, one is pricked more by the thought that he could have been unfairly sent away for a murder he did not commit.

High Court Judge J. Stuart Mooore, who presided over Mario’s trial in 1993, said in a letter dated Sept 1, 1995 that “a verdict of manslaughter might have been recorded by a more merciful jury against these defendants (Mario and another) on the basis of a joint enterprise falling short of the intention necessary for murder.”

Clearly, the trial judge himself was not convinced that Mario and his co-accused had committed murder; that the jury, had it been more merciful, should have given a verdict of manslaughter, for which a 7-year jail term would already be on the high side.

A veteran court interpreter who was at the trial had confided many years ago that she was not convinced of Mario’s guilt. But she was reasonable enough to admit it was the jury which had to decide on the case, and not anyone else.

To this day, Mario who is now 61, is adamant he was not the one who stabbed to death the Filipino victim in that gang brawl in Saikung. So resolute was he in denying any culpability that he rejected his lawyer’s suggestion that he plead guilty to manslaughter so he could get off with a much lighter sentence.

But his once fierce proclamation of his innocence is rarely heard nowadays. Having done jail time for a quarter of a century, all he wants now is to be free again, and do things many people have come to take for granted, like using a mobile phone and a computer, or even just to feel the breeze from outside prison blowing in his face again.

Mario has suffered long enough. He should be freed.

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