By Glenn Tillett
Caribbean News Now contributor
BELMOPAN, Belize -- At 11:30 am on Thursday, Belizean Rhett Fuller's 15-year fight against extradition to the United States to stand trial for his alleged participation in a 1990 murder in South Beach, Florida, came to end.
Belize's attorney general and minister of foreign affairs Wilfred Elrington on Thursday formally denied the US extradition request following a brief hearing.
Elrington said that he was swayed in his decision by the hardship that Fuller's family would have to endure if he had upheld the extradition order. Fuller is the father of an autistic child.
Rhett Fuller. Photo: Channel 7 News Belize
The US formally made its extradition request in 1998, and Belize's chief magistrate gave the order to proceed in 1999, but Fuller appealed to the Belize Court of Appeal. His appeal was not heard until 2008 and a judgement rendered in 2009 dismissed his appeal. He was subsequently imprisoned.
He then appealed to the Judicial Committee of Privy Council in London and that appeal was dismissed in 2011. The Privy Council ruled that the court had no jurisdiction in the matter and only the minister of foreign affairs had the discretion to discharge a person committed in an extradition proceeding on the grounds of abuse of process.
Fuller who had been granted bail by order of the Supreme Court in 2009 while awaiting his appeal to the Privy Council was again remanded to jail.
He then appealed to the minister of foreign affairs but was refused following a hearing later that year so he petitioned the Belize Supreme Court for judicial review of that decision. His application was denied but an application for an appeal of that decision, to the Belize Court of Appeal was sustained.
His second appeal to the Belize Court of Appeal was upheld early last year after his attorney showed in court via cables obtained from the Wikileaks website that the foreign minister had discussed his case with the US embassy in Belize. He was granted a second hearing by the minister of foreign affairs in July 2013 and his decision was rendered on Thursday.
Larry Miller, an American citizen, was shot and killed on March 22, 1990, in Dade County, Florida. A warrant for Fuller's arrest was issued the following day but before he could be apprehended, Fuller, a student at the time, fled to Belize. The US embassy in Belize made a formal request for his extradition on August 17, 1998, and after five court hearings, two tribunal hearings, and several years in jail, Rhett Fuller finally gets to go home.
The case is unique in the annals of Belizean jurisprudence. Fuller’s attorney Eamon Courtenay was himself a former foreign minister and attorney general, and is currently the president of the Belize Bar Association.