Jamaica has made an impact on the terrifying growth of its gang culture by convicting 15 people on charges ranging from gang membership, gun possession and murder.
In a landmark gang-busting trial hailed by Jamaican authorities as a major blow to one of the island’s deadliest criminal organisations, the Klansmen, based in Spanish Town.
Twelve other defendants were acquitted and the cases against five others were not pursued, but police and prosecutors described the verdicts last week as historic. One defendant was murdered while on bail.
“This is a win for law enforcement, a win for the criminal justice system and a win for Jamaica,” said Fitz Bailey, deputy police commissioner for the Jamaica Constabulary Force.
The marathon trial, which lasted a year and a half, is a victory for the government of Prime Minister Andrew Holness, which passed a series of judicial reforms aimed at thwarting gang violence.
Jamaica currently has a murder rate of more than 40 per 100,000, one of the highest globally, and gang violence accounts for 70% of killings.
The trial was marked by drama, intrigue and bloodcurdling testimony. It also featured a combative judge – Chief Justice Bryan Sykes – who criticised the police and prosecutors for evidence-gathering blunders; revelations of police and army co-conspirators; and defendants with ghoulish or cartoonish aliases including “Squeeze Eye”, “City Puss”, “Mawga Man” and “Sick Head”.
The case emerged from internecine strife that splintered the Klansman criminal empire, which has for decades terrorised Spanish Town, a former capital of Jamaica.
André ‘Blackman’ Bryan was found guilty of six murders and named as the leader of the Klansman-One Don gang faction. Bryan cut a teary-eyed and diminished figure at the trial’s end – a stark contrast to the testimony of one former gangster who described him as a despotic leader who laughed hysterically while recounting a murder.
But the case might have collapsed before coming to trial when a protected witness – one of two former associates who testified against Bryan – grew increasingly depressed and fearful for his life.
That witness, whose identity was protected by a publication ban, became increasingly anxious in a state protection programme. He was moved across the Caribbean several times, complaining of feeling isolated and even wanting to return home where as an informer his life would be a risk.
The national security minister, Dr Horace Chang, described the effort to keep the former gangster in witness protection as a “constant battle”.
“Witness protection is difficult. Gang cases take long. To pull them together takes an enormous amount of police work,” said Chang. The other gangster turned witness is said to be “in good spirits”.
Police and prosecutors had initially sought to prosecute 53 alleged Klansman-One Don members, but only 33 were eventually brought to trial.
24 Sep, 2019
25 Feb, 2020
28 Jun, 2019
18 Nov, 2019
We appreciate your feedback. You can comment here with your pseudonym or real name. You can leave a comment with or without entering an email address. All comments will be reviewed before they are published.