By Michael Jordan
Here’s the plot of a true-life, home-grown mystery:
Eight people are murdered, but there are no corpses.
The case is 10 years cold and potential witnesses are either dead, refusing to testify, or may even be suspects themselves.
The ‘sleuths’—a retired judge and an attorney-at-law—have been given a deadline to close their case—and that deadline is fast running out.
These are just some of the challenges facing Justice Donald Trotman (CCH) and attorney at-law Patrice Henry, who are spearheading the Commission of Inquiry into one of Guyana’s most baffling and heinous murder cases: The June, 2008 slaughter and burning of eight miners at Lindo Creek, Upper Berbice.
President David Granger has said that Lindo Creek Commission of Inquiry (COI) “will lead to the unravelling of the criminal network and exposure of operatives, who were responsible for the reign of terror, during the most deadly decade in Guyana’s history, while also ensuring that justice is served for the affected families.”
COI Chairman, Justice Trotman, has said that the COI “aims to narrow down the various possibilities” as to who caused the deaths of the eight miners, and also to ensure that relatives and loved ones of the victims feel that some investigation has been done, so that they can form a rational opinion on how they met their deaths.”
NUMEROUS CHALLENGES FACE THE COMMISSION
But after ten years, finding that truth will not be easy.
First, as one individual observed: “Much of the evidence that is being presented to the COI is from persons and entities (the Police Force and Guyana Defence Force) whom some relatives and some members of public feel were responsible; so there is a contradiction. Some of the same people who are suspects (or from entities that are suspected to be involved) are the same people who are being asked to give evidence.”
For instance, one of the witnesses that may present evidence is a former ballistic expert. The expert is also a former member of the Guyana Police Force.
“The Commission is faced with having the main evidential persons and potential witness being members, or former members of these entities, whose members are (among) the suspects in the commission of this atrocity. I am not saying they are, but they are suspects. Some may not have committed but may know who committed but are fearful of repercussions,” a source observed.
Some of the key players, such as then Commissioner of Police Henry Greene, have died; many others have retired or may be out of the jurisdiction.
Others who are around and who may provide key evidence are reportedly unwilling to appear either in public hearings or in camera.
POOR RESPONSE FROM ARMY?
The Commission is reportedly receiving poor response from members and former members of the Guyana Defence Force whom they wish to question, particularly in view of reports that some members of the army were at Lindo Creek in June, 2008.
“The Commission is said to know that a party of Joint Services ranks were at Lindo Creek, and this is the party of police and soldiers that they are now trying to get,” a source said.
The Commission reportedly contacted senior army officials some months ago, to request that these individuals who were allegedly at the location be available to testify. The army officials reportedly responded that they “were still working on it.”
“They should have provided this information since 26 March and have not done so despite subsequent request,” Kaieteur News was told.
So far, the COI has reportedly not had “positive, cooperative response” from the army.
Recently, the Lindo Creek COI put out notices in the press to members of the army that may have been in the Lindo Creek area around the time of the massacre.
One rank has reportedly indicated his willingness to appear before the COI.
LEONARD AROKIUM AND POLICE ‘EYEWITNESS’
One potential key witness, whose media statements are mainly responsible for the COI being conducted, is apparently reluctant to appear before the COI.
Leonard Arokium is said to be fearful of testifying in public hearings, although the Commission reportedly has statements from him.
Mr. Arokium is said to be fearful of repercussions, and is reportedly concerned that the individuals who might be responsible for the deaths of his crew might still be around.
It has also been suggested that the mining camp owner might have become disillusioned that, in his opinion, little investigation was done into the massacre, despite his statements to former government and police officials, and his numerous public appearances in which he expressed his opinions as to whom he felt had killed the miners.
The Commission is reportedly also hoping to get an alleged former member of the ‘Fine Man’ gang to appear on the stand. The late Police Commissioner Henry Greene had stated that the ex-gang-member, who was in his teens when the massacre was carried out, had implicated the Rawlins gang in the killing of the miners.
However, the ex-gang member remains in police protection and it is unclear whether he will be willing to appear before the Commission.
There is also the fact that much of the physical evidence is unavailable. For instance, of course, there are no corpses to examine, since the bodies were not only burnt, but heaped together in a tarpaulin and later disposed of in a single casket.
Only two of the victims were identified via DNA tests.
There is no record of any postmortem being carried out, though there are indications that one victim was struck with a sledge hammer.
As one observer put it: “The Commission is put in a position of trying to bring certainty out of uncertainty.
“There was no inquest (into the killings). Maybe there might not have been a need for this COI if there had been an inquest, which would have been done much nearer to the time (of the massacre) and more evidence would have been available and would have been fresh.”
“But yet the Commission is working towards reducing these areas of uncertainty, and to establish the truth of what happened.”
CRIME SCENE NOW COVERED WITH VEGETATION
After ten years, the Commission also has no crime scene to examine. The area where the Arokium camp was located and other areas of interest are reportedly now covered with heavy vegetation.
That area will have to be cleared for the team to land.
The irony is that the Commission may have to seek assistance from the Guyana Defence Force and some of its reportedly ‘recalcitrant personnel’ to have the area cleared.
Despite the numerous challenges, the Commission is forging ahead with its mandate of identifying the individuals behind the massacre and brining closure to the matter.
The team will be hoping to access telephone records to check on calls that were allegedly made to and from the cell phone of Dax Arokium months after his demise.
The Commission is also conducting programmes in areas that have some relevant connections to the slain miners. They have visited Meten-Meer-Zorg and South Ruimveldt, and are also to travel to Linden, Kwakwani, and areas on the Essequibo coast.
“This would make a great crime story, if it is solved after all these years,” one source remarked.
But what happens if the Commission identifies the individuals who were responsible for the Lindo Creek killings?
It could possibly recommend that individuals be prosecuted, that there be compensation for the relatives, (many of the victims had spouses and children) and even apologies made for the trauma that the families have had to endure for ten long years.
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