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Saturday, April 01, 2006
From Kaieteur News...

Paramakatoi farmers freed of murder rap

-- Tell court of ill treatment in prison

By Danielle Campbell

The six Hinterland farmers who were allegedly forced to take the rap for a murder committed by an entire village were freed yesterday.

Richard Isaacs, Leslie Isaacs, Perberty Kenfume, Emille Thomas, Lucius Williams and Mallien Stanislaus were charged with the capital offence and stood at the High Court.

Police had accused them of killing Berbician trader Julian Gonsalves on May 28, 2002, at Paramakatoi, North Pakaraima .

Gonsalves was killed after he stabbed two villagers during an altercation over money and died from strangulation.

The deceased, who lived at Monkey Mountain , stayed at a Paramakatoi night-shelter where he would market items he brought from Venezuela .

Justice Winston Patterson made the ruling at the end of a voir dire (trial within a trial), after finding that six caution statements allegedly given by the farmers were extracted under disgusting conditions.

The caution statements were the only evidence linking the men to the crime, as no eyewitnesses came forward to testify.

Clasping their hands above their bowed heads in a traditional gesture of gratitude, the farmers anxiously left the dock in smiles.

Outside the courtroom, the delighted men greeted each juror thanking them for the verdict.

The Judge had directed the jury to return the formal verdict of not guilty.

Justice Patterson found that the statements both oral and written were unlawfully extracted through trickery, bribes, promises, inducements, threats or a combination of means.

The men had given evidence, some on oath and others in unsworn testimony, about the conditions they endured from the time they were arrested to the time they were charged.

The six accused disputed that the statements taken by police were under strict, transparent conditions with Stanislaus alleging force, Williams claiming trickery, Thomas contending he was threatened, Kenfume alleging fear, Leslie Isaacs telling a story of maltreatment and promises, and Richard Isaacs claiming he did not know much English.

Stanislaus, 51, in his testimony said that he had never traveled outside his village, which he described as having no telephones, electricity, police station or lawyers.

The man said upon his arrest, he was asked by an Inspector Alleyne if he knew anything about the murder.

“I said no. He had a shiny barrel gun with a brown handle and loaded it in front of me. I answered no to all his questions, and he said he would hang me and break my neck. He called me a bushman, a buckman. He curse me up. I was nervous and got frightened. Then he said I would miss my family forever. He told me that if I ask God to forgive me, God would, but he wouldn't. Then he picked up paper and pen and start to write. He never asked me if I need a friend. I knew nothing about lawyers. He did not read it to me nor did he ask me to read it. He only ask me to sign,” Stanislaus said.

The witness said he was accustomed to sleeping in his hammock but was made to sleep on boards in a place that was hot.

According to Stanislaus, there were 11 detainees in a small 15ft x 12ft hall for seven days with little food and water.

He said six of them were brought to Georgetown where Alleyne claimed he was going to shorten the statements.

“He did not ask questions or invite a friend to write for me. He did read it though,” Stanislaus related.

He recalled, too, that he was not allowed to use the toilet.

“One day I wanted to go so bad that I did it in my pants. Officer said, ‘buckman don't use toilet they go in the bush. I was so ashamed,' ” Stanislaus said.

Under cross-examination, Stanislaus said it was the first time he had seen police in his village and the first time he had seen guns.

He added that a Lance Corporal George would assist them whenever they wanted to use the toilet.

However, he explained that George was not there on the day he had soiled himself.

Thirty-one-year-old Williams was the second to testify and said that police had come to his home on a Thursday morning around 06:00hrs.

“He (George) came to my home that morning and said he wanted to question me. I ask him if I could have my breakfast but he said he was just taking me for 15 minutes and after he would send me back home,” Williams said.

He recounted that on the way to the teachers' quarters, where they were held, George picked up Thomas.

Williams explained how he and Thomas were left for half a day handcuffed in the sun with a post between them.

“The handcuffs were so tight I asked him to release it. He later tried to take it off but could not so he saw it off and in the process cut Emille's hand. He told me, if I tell the truth about the murder, he would loose me but I knew nothing,” Williams said.

Thomas, who is 25 years old, said George had asked him to assist with information concerning Gonsalves's death.

“My brother ask him if I could take my tea but he promised I would return just now. The officer used two handcuffs to chain us together, put us face to face with a post between. Later, the police had to cut the post with a chain saw since he could not unlock the handcuffs. Then he saw the handcuffs with a hacksaw blade and cut me on my wrist,” Thomas said.

He testified that George then handed them over to Inspector Alleyne saying, “These are the suspects.”

“Alleyne had come with a plane. I asked to see my family since I was hungry. He ask me if I knew the meaning of family and I said no. He explained that it meant wife and children. The next day my father, the Village Captain, told them he was in charge and had brought food for me, but he began shouting at my father threatening to lock him up too. My father went back home and never came back,” the witness said.

He added that Alleyne then began taking a statement with a gun in his hand.

“He never told me about rights or that I could have a friend or lawyer, and insisted that I knew about the story. He said it was I who lash the man but I said no. He said do what I feel like cause the whole country of Guyana is in his hands. The laws are in his hands and when he said he would hang us all, he meant it. He told me he would take us to Georgetown and we would become citizens and never see family again. He ask me again about the story, but I maintained I did not know so he said, ‘You brave.' He took out his gun, clicked it, took out something from the handle put it in back and replaced it on the table,” Thomas related.

He stated that Alleyne again asked him if he was around the night-shelter on the night of the 28 th and when he denied, Alleyne began shouting that he was there.

“I never told him that I lash the man but he write down something on a paper and told me to sign and said if I didn't, he would do me something. He told us not to eat plenty, cause he was not able to take us to toilet every minute. Policeman Gary Smith told us to pray hard since it was big trouble,” Thomas said.

He added that they were later flown to Georgetown where he had been only once before when he was ill as a child.

At Brickdam, Thomas said they slept on concrete floors, before being charged eight to nine days later.

Explaining the eating arrangement at the lockups there, Thomas related that the food was brought to prisoners in a bucket, but because of their passive nature other prisoners would bully them.

“They would cut the half of a bottle and we would use it as a bowl to eat. Who get, get, and who didn't get, didn't get,” Thomas told the Judge.

He described the toilet as a slanted concrete basin with a hole in the centre that could only be used within public view.

“The Brickdam officer open a book and read it to me and ask if that was true but I said no. He said, ‘I know what I gon do with you.' I never told him I lash the man with a gun,” Thomas said.

Kenfume, who is a 58-year-old rural constable, said he had been in a lumber accident prior to his arrest and his fingers were injured.

As a result there was bandage on his arm and sutures to his fingers and he claimed he could not hold the pen.

However, Kenfume said that was not the only reason he did not want to sign, since he did not know what he was signing to.

“We ate one meal a day. Mr. Alleyne treated us bad. He did not allow us to go to toilet. We were escorted by Mr. Smith to a plane which took us to Ogle. I know it was Ogle, cause the officer told me it was. Then they took us to Brickdam lockups. We did not know what to do. Other prisoners told us to take off our shirts and spread it on the concrete. That night we slept without eating. The next day I was taken to a house I did not know. I was met by a man who asked me if I know what I come for and if I was the one who killed the man. He asked lots of questions. I told him my hand was weak but he forced me to sign. I never told police that I told them to choke and lash the man until he faint, so we could tie his foot and hand,” Kenfume claimed.

Kenfume said he was never told of his rights.

Under cross-examination he admitted that as the rural constable, he would be alerted to happenings in the village.

However, he said he was telling the truth when he told Alleyne he knew nothing about the murder.

Forty-two-year-old Leslie Isaacs said on May 30, 2002, he was at home with his family when he got a message that George wanted to see him at the teachers' quarters.

Isaacs said he went over and saw the other accused and lots of villagers gathered around the quarters.

The witness said George told him that he had to stay until the police arrived from Georgetown .

Later that evening when the plane came, Officer Alleyne kept asking about the story but Isaacs said he did not know.

“He get vex and told me not to run or he will shoot me. I wanted to explain but he did not give me time. He wrote something and asked me to sign. He did not read it or explain it to me. When we came to Georgetown , an officer told me that me and others wounded Julian, but I said no. He raise his hands as if he wanted to slap me. I told him I was weak and hungry and he promise to get me food, if I finish with him first. He wrote up something and told me to sign if I wanted to go back to my family. ‘This will save you,' ” Isaacs quoted the officer as saying.

Adding that, “He did not use those fancy words like, you not oblige or caution or rights to lawyer. But even if he did, I did not know what a lawyer was. It was my first time in Georgetown ,” Isaacs concluded.

Richards Isaacs, 63, who claimed he did not know much English, said he did not have much to say, except that he had not given police any statement.

“But the police tell me to sign for what I did not know nothing about, because I don't know to speak English and that is all,” Richards Isaacs said.

Ruling on the voir dire, Justice Patterson said the appalling conditions under which the men were kept would propel anyone without hesitation to comply.

“These were circumstances of an unfamiliar environment, being taken away from family with the police using means of starvation, inducement and in some instances breaching the judge's rules,” the Judge said.

He also found that there was a total disregard for their welfare, and the purported caution statements were taken after the prisoners had already endured the conditions.

The Judge said he did not doubt that with the peculiarity in diet, the accused would have opted to have relatives provide their food.

However, he noted that the men had tried to embellish and make more graphic, in a despicable way, an already bad situation.

Justice Patterson said if in fact the men were intimidated by a gun, it was very irresponsible of the officers.

He said further that Assistant Superintendent Alleyne's mere demeanor suggested that he did not need a gun to intimidate anyone.

However, the Judge said it was quite unfortunate for Thomas to have sustained a cut after being yoked with his friend to a post.

He stated that the police had gone to arrest a man who had been allegedly committing various crimes in the village only to find that he was killed at the hands of others or probably not only the six accused.

Justice Patterson declared that there was no way of knowing whether the statements were exculpatory or incriminatory.

“In their haste to solve a crime and appease the loss of life, the court is of the opinion that police extracted involuntary statements,” the Judge said.

However, he noted the uncanny ability of the witnesses to remember in detail an incident which occurred four years ago, and their hesitancy to answer questions put to them by the prosecutor.

As such, the Judge said because of the doubt created in his mind he was inclined to deem the statements involuntary and inadmissible.

He instructed the jury to return the not guilty verdict in favour of all six accused.