Free at last! 24-year-old legal battle over for Rhett Fuller ends

At the order of Minister of Foreign Affairs and Attorney General Wilfred Elrington, businessman and father of three, Rhett Allen Fuller, 45, is at home with his family.
Elrington’s ten-page decision, released Thursday, is the final straw in a 24-year saga that began with the death of Larry Miller in Miami, Florida, in May of 1990.
Elrington, in his judgement, writes: “In the circumstances, I have decided to accede to Mr. Fuller’s application that he should not be returned to the United States to stand trial for the murder of Larry Miller. I, therefore, order that he be discharged forthwith and unconditionally from legal custody.”
The Minister had asked for and received submissions on the effect that extradition would have on his family and particularly on the further treatment and care of Gabriela Fuller.
Elrington told the media, “I thought that the damage that would have been done to the children would have … outweighed [by far] the consideration of sending him (Fuller) back.
The Minister’s decision was based on determining what is in the best interest of the country – and according to Elrington, Belize would be worse off if Fuller were torn away from his family at this time.
This does not remove Fuller’s legal liability, and the Minister expressed the view that Fuller could not now seek compensation for being jailed for as long as he has because he would be risking renewed efforts by the U.S. Attorney’s office to extradite him.
A thankful Fuller wrote an email to the media Thursday evening, saying: “Words cannot describe the overwhelming happiness and joy that I feel from finally being home with my children and family after all these years.”
According to the Miami New Times, Fuller and friends, Carlos Cuello (a Belizean emigrant to the U.S.) and Alex Napolitano (American), met with Miller and one Jerry Hiebert to settle an alleged marijuana deal.
But the three friends carried firearms and Cuello, the dealer, fought with and shot Miller, while Fuller allegedly knocked out Hiebert with a hammer.
Napolitano was caught almost immediately and convicted of murder, serving a little less than ten years; Cuello, who fled with Fuller to Belize, was caught five years after the murder and convicted as well, serving ten years and disappearing thereafter.
Fuller kept in contact with Miami authorities after settling down in Belize and eventually marrying his wife Ann-Marie, raising two boys and a girl, and running his own furniture-making business. But they caught up with him six years after his initial flight, winning extradition in the Magistrate’s Court in 1997.
After failed appeals to the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and Privy Council in London, the case first went to Elrington’s office in September of 2011, where he decided to refuse Fuller’s request not to be extradited on the grounds of oppression due to extreme delay (the case took six years to be heard at the Court of Appeal) and on humanitarian grounds: his marriage, children (especially his youngest, autistic daughter Gabriela) and business and community ties.
The Supreme Court upheld the decision on judicial review, but the Court of Appeal ruled last March that the Minister, under the 1870 Extradition Act, had “wrongly restricted [his] discretion” and “failed to give to Mr. Fuller the fullest consideration to which he was entitled under the law” by not considering, in addition to whether the Minister can refuse to order the extradition of a fugitive who has exhausted his legal options because it would be unjust or oppressive, whether the Minister would be obliged to refuse if he were satisfied that it would not be in the country’s best interest.
Fuller had also charged that the detective on the case made overtures that he was not allowed to make and abused the extradition process as a result; the Privy Council had ruled this a matter for Belize’s courts.
Elrington ascribed the lengthy nature of the case and similar cases to the improved efforts of attorneys to delay cases on numerous grounds.
He added that the 1870 law will be reviewed and processes in the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Attorney and Solicitor General’s Offices and the Judiciary itself improved in general, and not just in extradition cases.
Fuller was represented by attorney Eamon Courtenay, Senior Counsel.

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