Maintaining his brother’s innocence, Donald Rodney yesterday rejected notions that Dr Walter Rodney knew that the device which caused the explosion that claimed his life in 1980 was not a walkie-talkie.
Continuing his evidence at the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into Rodney’s death, Donald Rodney stated that his brother could not have been aware that the package handed to him by Gregory Smith was a bomb. He made this declaration under cross-examination by attorney Basil Williams, who is representing the interest of the PNC—the political party long accused of orchestrating the fatal bomb blast.
Williams contended that the reason Donald Rodney did not examine the bag handed to him by Smith on the night of on June 13, 1980 was because he knew it was not a walkie-talkie, but a “sensitive device.”
He grilled Rodney about why, if he was the “shield” for his brother as he claimed, he did not check the bag before passing it to him.
“I’d seen the box before,” Rodney responded.
“No, no. you never opened the bag,” Williams cut in, stating that even an ordinary human being would have checked to see what they had received.
“I said I have seen the box before,” Rodney repeated, stating that he had assumed it was a walkie-talkie under construction.
Williams, however, suggested that the real reason why the bag was not checked was because “he knew that it was not a walkie-talkie” but a sensitive device that had to be handled delicately.
Rodney rejected this assertion and Williams pressed further, noting that Walter Rodney himself did not even check the bag because he relied on the witness to check it. Rodney answered that Smith’s instruction did not include removing the object from the bag.
The instructions, Williams stated, included waiting on a light to flash instead of waiting on a voice transmission. “If it was a walkie-talkie, to test it you have to talk. That’s the name—walkie-talkie,” he said.
He stated that walkie-talkies were hand held and would have to be placed against your mouth to talk and your ear to hear. Williams questioned him on whether a conversation could have been carried on with a walkie-talkie in a bag instead of at a person’s mouth or ears. He responded that he did not know. He stated that there was no need to say anything. He said he was aware that the device was under construction and that it was being constructed in sections and if the section with audio was not completed, then they could not have tested it by talking.
Chairman of the Commission Sir Richard Cheltenham interrupted Rodney’s explanation, stating: “I thought that it was your understanding that you were going to collect a finished device.”
Rodney replied: “My prior understanding is that I wasn’t sure whether it was finished…when I arrived there, I was told it was for testing and in my mind I thought it was completed.”
Williams, however, insisted that Rodney knew that whatever he collected from Smith was not a walkie-talkie.
“I disagree,” Rodney said.
Williams stated that if the instruction was to test the efficiency of the transmission through the thick metal of the prison walls and Walter Rodney did not follow it, it meant that he knew that the “thing” was not a walkie-talkie. “That’s why he drove away from the prison to test it,” he contended.
“I wouldn’t know what Walter had in his mind,” Rodney answered.
Furthermore, Williams contended that Walter Rodney knew that the exercise was associated with danger. Rodney, however, interrupted him, saying that his brother would never endanger their lives. “No Walter was deceived by Smith…and he knew but what we call it—a little too late,” Williams said.
He suggested that Rodney did not have to perform the role of bodyguard for his brother, questioning if Rodney knew that his brother had a guard or if any was provided by the Working People’s Alliance (WPA).
“I was no bodyguard,” Donald Rodney said, indicating that he was only a “go-between” for his brother and people outside of the WPA.
Williams pressed further, asking whether he found it strange that his brother would never come out of the vehicle to speak with Smith when they went to the vicinity of latter’s premises. Williams also questioned why they never parked their vehicle in front of Smith’s premises.
“And your suspicion wasn’t aroused? That something was not normal?” he asked, insisting that it was not a regular meeting.
“Well, the situation was not normal,” Rodney responded, stating that it was necessary to conceal the connection between Walter Rodney and Smith because the situation might have been seen as “intolerable” by the ruling government.
Williams probed whether he had considered that transaction between Smith and his brother was unlawful. “Yes, sir. Because I understood that walkie-talkies were banned,” he said, adding that he could not understand why constructing walkie-talkies were illegal.
“That’s the point! But making an explosive device is against the law of the land, do you agree?” Williams added.
Donald Rodney’s attorney, Keith Scotland, however, objected to Williams not allowing his client to answer questions. “Chairman… he is badgering the witness. Could you please allow the witness to answer the question?”
“I’m badgering?” Williams asked.
“Yes. You’re stopping the witness from answering—that’s badgering,” Scotland said.
“Don’t interrupt me again,” Williams retorted.
Scotland responded, “Yes, unless you are badgering [then] I will interrupt you.”
Rodney then agreed that it was illegal to construct explosives. “How could it not be?” he asked rhetorically.
Williams pressed the witness further, contending that he did not run for help on the night of explosion but fled the scene before the police could arrive. “No, sir,” Rodney said, looking stunned. He maintained that he ran for help for his brother because he knew he was injured. He stated that he did not immediately think about what could have possibly caused the explosion.
He said after he learnt that his brother was killed, he thought that either someone had snuck around the corner and thrown some device or liquid, or it could have been the Death Squad. He said he thought Smith might have been tipped off.
This, he said, only occurred to him when he was at Croal Street.
Rodney’s attorney is preparing an affidavit to challenge that his conviction of possession of explosives. According to Rodney, the documents are “in a state of near-readiness.”
The next sittings of the commission are scheduled for March 23 to March 27. It will be the last session before general elections in May.