By Dale Andrews
If the Gods continue to smile on convicted killer Lawrence Chan, he could be out of prison after 17 years on death row. But the relatives of the man he killed 21-years ago are not amused; they want him to remain incarcerated for the rest of his life. They plan to petition any Prerogative Board of Mercy to block any remote chance that Chan may have of returning to society, since they believe that justice will not be served if he is released.
A few weeks ago, Chan along with three other condemned killers had their death sentences commuted to life imprisonment by Chief Justice Ian Chang, who ruled that having the men on death row for so long was a violation of their human rights.
There is a possibility that Chan might just be able to see sunlight as a free man once again since he would have already served the equivalent of a life sentence.
However the wife of Raphael Seecharran, the victim of Chan’s heinous crime on January 11, 1991 in the North West District, is crying out for justice.
Although she has forgiven Chan for snatching away an integral of her life as well as those of her children, Elizabeth Seecharran believes that he has not paid the full penalty for his actions. She is also of the view that the system has failed her family as well as the countless other relatives of murder victims.
“Did they stop to consider those who were left with the trauma of having lost their loved one? Did the government do anything to help anybody with the trauma that Chan left behind?” Seecharran stated in a recent interview with this newspaper.
She remembers the days after her husband’s death as if it were yesterday.
Raphael Seecharran had left his wife and three children at home to ply his trade as a trader to and from Venezuela in his paddle boat. He would normally paddle through the Barima River up to Port Kaituma where he would sell his Morocut and other items which he brought from Venezuela.
It was on one of these trips that his Good Samaritan nature cost him his life.
As he was returning from Kaituma along with his colleague, Ramong, a Venezuelan, Raphael Seecharran was asked for a lift by one Johnny Knights, to which he agreed.
As it turned out, Knights happened to be the only one who would survive the misfortune that would befall the trio.
While on their way they noticed Lawrence Chan, his brother and another man in another boat and they hailed them as they would normally do to fellow travellers. But Chan and his accomplice kept following them and Seecharran and his companions became suspicious.
But as it was getting dark, Raphael Seecharran and his two passengers decided to throw camp for the night until the tide changed to facilitate the arduous travelling.
Seecharran was known to walk with cooked food in the event that he had to spend some extra time conducting business, and on that day he had a pot of chowmein which he shared with Ramong and Knights. After eating, they retired to sleep but were soon aroused by the sound of an approaching paddle boat.
It was Chan and his two accomplices. They claimed that they were hunting bush hog and wanted to rest for the night. Seecharran and his companions offered them some chowmien that was left back and allowed them space in their camp.
But Knights began to sense that something was amiss when he heard Lawrence Chan asking one of his accomplices if they had brought the ram rod (part for the improvised shotgun) from their boat.
Knights began experiencing problems sleeping after hearing that.
As the moon rose, he saw Chan get up and started to circle the camp and then he heard the sound of a gunshot. Chan had shot Ramong who died almost instantly.
The commotion awoke Raphael Seecharran who enquired what it was. Chan then told him that the weapon accidentally went off. But Knights, who had seen what had happened, had run into the nearby bush when he heard another gunshot, and he correctly assumed that that was meant for Raphael Seecharran.
As he hid, he saw a light approaching, but being an old soldier he was able to successfully conceal himself. The following morning, he made his way to an Amerindian location where he reported what had happened. He could not say where Chan and his accomplices had gone, neither could he say where Seecharran and Ramong were.
He also did not know that Seecharran did not die immediately.
However, he subsequently reported what he had seen the previous night to the police at Mabaruma.
It was later learnt that Chan and his crew had taken the badly wounded Seecharran and the body of Ramong up river, where Seecharran was finally killed.
Seecharran was shot in the back. He did not die immediately. He had pleaded with Chan not to kill him but to take the money and the gold chain he was wearing and go. He even asked him to take him back to Kaituma where his cousin would find him. But Chan refused to carry out the request and after relieving Seecharran of his chain and money, he chopped his head off.
Chan managed to elude several police dragnets and made it to the city where he obtained a birth certificate under a different name. He was subsequently caught sleeping under a boat bow after he had returned to the North West District.
When confronted, Chan denied his true identity, producing the bogus birth certificate as proof.
However, the police were convinced that he was Lawrence Chan and invited him to the station where they were able to confirm his true identity.
Eleven months later, the skeletal remains of Raphael Seecherran were found. An Amerindian man had gone to a location in the North West to cut cabbage when his dog led him along a labba trail.
Following his dog, the man stumbled upon the creek where Chan had sunk the boat bearing the remains of his victims. The man pulled up the boat and got the shock of his life when he saw the skeletal remains of two persons.
Police were contacted and they were able to identify one of the skeletons as that of Raphael Seecharran from a national identification card and a national insurance card they found at the scene.
With all the overwhelming evidence against him, Chan was convicted and sentenced to death.
Although it was 21 years ago and Elizabeth Seecharran’s three children are all grown up now, the memory of what happened to her husband almost overwhelmed her as she recalled the incident.
“I was left with three children and I had to cope to bring them up,” she said.
Mrs. Seecharran, now an old age pensioner, is of the view that the delay in carrying out the sentence on her husband’s killer paved the way for him to even contemplate his freedom.
“To me it’s a long time. He being out of jail would not bring my husband back, but I believe that when a sentence is given, they must carry it through. When he was caught I felt that justice was done,” she pointed out.
While prison is supposed to reform offenders, she does not believe that Chan capitalized on this programme. She told this newspaper that from the evidence, Chan killed her husband and went his way until he was finally caught.
She insisted that since then Chan has always been fighting to save his life or to avoid prison.
“I believe that no reform was done to him, so why release him into the society.” Elizabeth Seecharran declared.
Chan, she said, has shown no remorse.
“I was in court throughout the trial and Chan maintained his innocence even when he was asked by the judge what he had to say after he was found guilty. Imagine he did a crime and he was not even willing to accept responsibility,” Mrs. Seecharran added.
What pains her even more is the fact that after killing her husband, Chan disposed of his body and even though some skeletal remains were found in the murdered man’s sunken boat, they were never handed over to his family because the police could not verify its true identity.
“That man gave him food and he did not even leave his body; he took that boat and sunk it. We had to wait days grieving until they found it. We could not even get the skeleton to bury. My children don’t even have a grave to say ‘this is where my father is buried’.”
But despite this, Mrs. Seecharran, a born-again Christian, said that she has forgiven Chan since she believes that everyone deserves a second chance.
“I cannot hold an unforgiving heart. I cannot hold a grudge for 19 years. But if he (Chan) gets a second chance he should make the best of it.”
In an invited comment, attorney at law Glenn Hanoman told this newspaper that he is not surprised by the Chief Justice’s decision, since there is an international movement away from the death penalty.
“Maybe this was taken into consideration,” Hanoman opined.
It is interesting to note also that Guyana’s Justice Sector Reform Programme depends on external financial assistance and there may be a lot of pressure being brought to bear on the administration’s application of the death penalty.
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