High Court of Justice of the Dutch Antilles agrees to pay USD 1.97 million compensation to Nozai Thomas and Andy Melaan (Spelonk case)
On 11 April 2014, the High Court of Justice ofAruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten and of Bonaire, Saint Eustatius and Saba (Dutch Antilles) rendered a judgment granting compensation to two exonerees for a miscarriage of justice which took place in 2005.
In 2006, the High Court of Justice at Bonaire affirmed a conviction of the District Court in 2005 against Nozai Thomas and Andy Melaan for murdering two brothers and sentenced them to respectively 8 and 24 years imprisonment.
The wrongful conviction came to light as a result of an initiative of drs. Lucio Ricardo, a psychologist working at the Dutch Antilles, who believed in the innocence of the two men. In 2009-2010 the former Dutch police detective Mr. Gosewehr and the criminologist dr. Timmerman, concluded that the two men were wrongfully convicted. The case was subsequently submitted by them to the Knoops’ Innocence Project (director Carry Knoops-Hamburger).
The Knoops’ Innocence Project has been working pro bono on the case since 2011 and initiated new research, in order to establish a “new fact”, which is necessary to have a case reopened in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Research by the Netherlands Forensic Research Bureau [Nederlands Forensisch Onderzoeksbureau, NFOB] and Digital Investigations revealed that Thomas’ was working at his computer during the night of the murders in 2005. New research also revealed that Thomas had confessed under extreme police pressure and that his confession was most likely to be false. Telecom research furthermore revealed that Melaan could not have been at the crime scene during the night of the murders.
On 1 July 2013 the High Court of Justice ordered a new trial and on 14 November 2013 both men were officially exonerated. Mr. Thomas spent 4.5 years in prison and Mr. Melaan 8 years.
On 11 April 2014 the High Court of Justice granted the following amounts of compensation:
- Nozai Thomas: USD 677.430
- Andy Melaan: USD 1.292.687
The High Court of Justice multiplied the standard amount of financial compensation for wrongfully convicted persons with factor five, while taking the following aspects into consideration:
- Knoops’ advocaten tried to obtain compensation through the Prosecutor General, which would have prevented the two men to go to court for compensation and which would have allowed them to gain swift rehabilitation;
- The fact that the prosecution did not prove to be willing to settle the compensation claim, while the prosecution – in light of the experience the Kingdom of the Netherlands has with wrongful convictions – should have been aware of the impact on the exonerees of such a miscarriage of justice. The fact that the prosecution proved to be unwilling to settle the claim, impacted upon the exonerees who still felt that they had to proof their innocence towards society;
- Both exonerees proved to be extremely traumatized and showed signs of PTSS;
- The uniqueness of the case demanded a higher compensation than the standard amount.
- Other factors that contributed to a higher amount of compensation were:
o Extensive media coverage;
o The fact that the accused suffered from stigmatization in the Bonairean community;
o Impact of the wrongful conviction on the lives of Melaan and Thomas (both exonerees suffer from PTSS);
o The young age of Melaan and Thomas during their detention;
o Severe psychological damage, which will have a lasting impact on their lives;
o Police pressure during the interrogations (which had resulted in a false confession by Thomas)
Importantly, the judges of the High Court of Justice granted compensation that is commensurate with the standard of living in “the Netherlands”; if they would have applied the Dutch Antilles standard, the amount would have been lower.
Andy Melaan and Nozai Thomas perceive the compensation as a form of rehabilitation and reparation for the suffering inflicted upon them. The compensation will be deposited in a fund, which will be managed by third parties and used for their – and their family and children’s – future. Melaan and Thomas are committed to helping other wrongfully convicted persons on the Dutch Antilles and beyond.
Knoops’ Innocence Project
Prof. G.G.J. Knoops
Mrs. C.J. Knoops-Hamburger (director Knoops’ Innocence Project)
Ms. M. van Woudenberg
Ms. Pascalle Dingemanse (local counsel)