The five men accused of the 2008 murder of 12 persons in the Bartica massacre were yesterday committed to stand trial at the High Court after a prima facie case was made out against them at the end of the preliminary inquiry (PI).
Mark Royden Williams called ‘Durant Williams’, Dennis Williams called ‘Anaconda’, Clebert Reece called ‘Chi-chi’, Michael Caesar and Roger Simon were informed by Magistrate Fazil Azeez who presided over the matter that enough evidence was presented to the court and as such a case was made out against them.
The men are accused of murdering nine civilians: Edwin Gilkes, Irving Ferreira, Ronald Gomes, Baldeo Singh, Dexter Adrian, Deonarine Singh, Abdool Yassin, Ashraf Khan, and Errol Thomas and three police officers: Ron Osborne, Zaheer Zakir and Shane Fredericks.
Magistrate Azeez in his address to the court commended both the prosecution and defence for bringing the PI to an end in less than 10 months, noting that many preliminary inquiries drag on for long periods.
The PI, which commenced on May 24, 2010 saw 37 witnesses taking the stand: civilians, relatives, expert officials and police officers.
The defendants who appeared at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Court will be sent before a judge and jury to stand trial at the High Court.
Magistrate Azeez in brief remarks informed the court that the committal is not a sentence nor is it a verdict. He explained that the inquiry was simply to determine whether a case was made out against the accused based on the evidence presented by the prosecution.
He said that the fate of the men will be decided by a judge and jury.
Magistrate Azeez’s decision was handed down in the presence of a sizeable gathering of relatives and friends of the accused persons.
Meanwhile when asked if they wanted to say anything, Mark Royden Williams said that he will reserve his defence for the High Court. Emphasising that he is innocent of the charge levelled against him and echoing similar sentiments, Simon too said that he prefers to reserve his witnesses for the High Court.
Dennis Williams and Michael Caesar both declined to speak when given the chance.
With the exception of Simon, all the defendants later refused to affirm their signatures to their responses after given a chance by the magistrate to speak. Magistrate Azeez however explained to the men that their refusal to sign to what they would have said would not prevent their responses from engaging the attention of the High Court.
When given the opportunity, Reece opted to take the witness stand and tell his story. His request was subsequently granted by the presiding magistrate who told him that it was his right to do so if he wished.
Magistrate Azeez however enquired from Reece if he was sure that was what he wanted to do and if he had consulted his lawyer before doing so.
After responding in the affirmative, a tearful Reece said that though he had retained a lawyer, he was never visited by any attorney while incarcerated. He explained that the decision to enter the witness box was his.
The State’s case was presented to the court by Special Prosecutor K A Juman Yassin. Among the attorneys representing the accused were Peter Hugh and Adrian Thompson.
On the night of February 17 at approximately 9.40 pm, some 20 gunmen attacked Bartica slaughtering one dozen people, including three policemen, during an hour-long strafing.
It was reported that the gunmen attacked the police station first, killing three policemen and freeing prisoners. They then took the vehicle assigned to the police station and went on a rampage, terrorizing the community and murdering nine others. According to reports, the gunmen arrived in the area by boat and departed in similar fashion taking with them firearms they had grabbed from the police station and from a mining company.
The attack on the Bartica community came amidst supposedly heightened security across the country following the slaughter of 11 people at Lusignan, East Coast Demerara three weeks earlier.
On March 4, Dennis Williams and Mark Royden Williams were among five other high-profile prisoners who were sentenced for attempting to escape lawful custody for the said capital offence of murder on which they were arraigned.
They were each handed a three-year prison sentence by Magistrate Susanna Lovell before whom they appeared at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Court.
Magistrate Lovell informed the two and the others with whom they were charged that they had been found guilty as charged beyond reasonable doubt, stemming from the prosecution’s strong evidence and that of witnesses which were presented against them.