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Durban - He committed the most brutal and heinous crimes, but triple murderer Clinton Houston, serving 70 years, comes across as a poster boy for rehabilitation, a model prisoner who, many prison officials agree, deserves parole.
But in terms of the rules he is not eligible, although fellow inmates serving life imprisonment – considered the most severe sentence of all – are.
Now Houston wants a judicial review of these parole policies and, if he succeeds, this could result in an overhaul of the parole system.
This week the burly prisoner, who runs the prison gym, came to Durban’s motion court, shuffling in leg irons and with three guards at his side, to seek legal assistance for his court challenge.
He complained to acting Judge Alex Jeffrey that since he launched his application late last year, he had been picked on by prison authorities, transferred to three other prisons, kept in isolation “for no reason” and had been unable to consult his Legal Aid lawyer.
According to records, Houston’s first brush with the law was in 1984 for theft. Several more convictions followed for minor crimes until he was sentenced to four years for robbery in 1992. Released on parole in 1995, later that year he kidnapped Kevin Bloxham in an attempt to get his pin number to get money for drugs. Bloxham was murdered, his body dumped head-first in a drain.
Sentencing Houston in September 1997 to serve 30 years, Durban High Court Judge Gerald Alexander said it was “hard to imagine a more brutal and heinous crime”, commenting that Houston was an addict, with mandrax and dagga being his drugs of choice.
Houston then stood trial before Judge Chris Nicholson for two other killings, those of a young boilermaker and his friend, a plumber, just four weeks after Bloxham’s murder.
In February 1998, Judge Nicholson sentenced him to a further 40 years in jail, remarking that “life imprisonment is generally imposed where there are no prospects of rehabilitation or reform”. It seemed inappropriate in this case, he said.
A report by prison official Mr N Nxumalo said Houston started prison life “thin, malnourished, weighing only 68kg and addicted to drugs”. But at the time of writing the report in 2007, he weighed 122kg and was “totally rehabilitated”.
“A true example of a rehabilitated offender” and “a man ready to walk the straight path”, is how another prison official described him.
Judge Nicholson wrote, in reply, to Houston: “I am glad you have come to better insights and would applaud your progress with the rehabilitation of yourself.”
But with the “lifers” around him eligible for parole after just over 13 years, Houston is faced with sitting it out until at least 2020, when he will have completed a third of his sentence.
The Supreme Court of Appeal – where he tried unsuccessfully to appeal against his sentence on the grounds that he was being unfairly discriminated against by prison policy – conceded it was a “quirk”.
“If he had been sentenced to life imprisonment, he would probably be eligible for parole now. The applicant contends there is something wrong with a system which makes granting of parole easier for persons sentenced to life imprisonment,” the court said.
It suggested a review of the parole policy and asked Legal Aid to help Houston.
In his Durban High Court application, Houston says the policy is “irrational and unconstitutional” and his case may end up in the Constitutional Court.
Judge Jeffrey adjourned the application and ordered the registrar of the high court to assist Houston with legal representation, suggesting he might qualify for pro bono assistance.