A three-judge appeals panel on St. Maarten on Monday reduced the sentences for three men convicted in the September 2012 robbery and killing of a Mount Pleasant couple.
The ruling followed a daylong appeals hearing earlier this month that functioned like a second trial, with the judges questioning the three suspects about their actions on the day Michael and Thelma King were killed.
The man accused of slitting the couple's throats, 29-year-old Meyshane Johnson, had been sentenced to life in prison, but the appeals court reduced his sentence to 30 years, said Taco Stein, the island's solicitor general.
Johnson had maintained his position that he remembered nothing of the killings, despite the detailed account he provided to police immediately after his arrest.
Johnson's co-defendants, Jeremiah Chevon Mills, 18, and Jamal Jefferson Woolford, 21, also claimed during the appeals hearing to have trouble remembering key details of the killings and offered accounts that differed from what they told police and testified to during their two-day trial in April.
Mills, who initially received 28 years behind bars, saw his sentence drop to 25 years, Stein said. Woolford, initially sentenced to 22 years in prison, had his term reduced to 18 years, he said.
Stein deferred further comment on the ruling. He said he will have more to say Tuesday after he has a chance to speak with the King family.
Several of the Kings' friends and relatives attended the Dec. 12 appeals hearing, and they had planned to be on the island for Monday's ruling. Todd King, Michael King's brother, could not immediately be reached for comment but has repeatedly expressed his family's desire that the initial sentences be upheld.
Mills' and Woolford's lawyers had argued that their clients deserved less time behind bars because they were less culpable than Johnson and admitted to their roles in a robbery earlier that night and to burglarizing the Kings' home.
Johnson' lawyer, Brenda Brooks, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday. During the appeal, she had put forth allegations of police brutality against her client and prosecutorial missteps in the case.
Brooks also argued that a life sentence was not justified because it went against the grain of Dutch law, which holds to the concept that a "ray of hope" should remain for a prisoner while incarcerated. St. Maarten follows Dutch law.
Brooks had cited a July decision in which the European Court of Human Rights ruled that life prison terms with no prospect of release were inhumane. The court, ruling on a case involving three convicted murderers in the United Kingdom, found life sentences without parole constituted "inhuman and degrading treatment" and violated article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
Brooks also pointed to a November ruling by the Constitutional Court of St. Maarten that nullified the ability to impose life sentences because they do not allow for a possibility for review and the prospect of release.
Prosecutors had maintained that the seriousness of Johnson's crimes warranted a life sentence and that the possibility of a future pardon - however remote - provided the "ray of hope" for release that the human rights treaty mandates.
Johnson, Mills and Woolford happened upon the Kings' Cupecoy villa on Sept. 19, 2012, and decided to rob them after committing another hold-up at a Chinese restaurant that same evening. Prosecutors said Johnson cut Michael King's throat and stabbed him in the back and neck before cutting Thelma King's throat while she was helpless and bound with pieces of a shredded towel.
The suspects are believed to have escaped with about $80,000 in jewelry and cash, authorities said.