‘Capone’ get 60 years for Lusignan, Bartica massacres

Michael Caesar, 34, called ‘Capone,’ was yesterday sentenced to spend the next 60 years in jail after pleading guilty to unlawfully killing a total of 20 persons in the Lusignan and Bartica massacres.

Justice Roxane George, who sentenced Caesar for multiple counts of manslaughter at the High Court in Georgetown, described the killings as “evil,” while noting that there was no other word for the acts. She said that the loss of life of the innocent children was “heartrending” and found that on the nights of the attacks, the convict displayed callous and scant regard for innocent human lives.

Clebert Reece
Michael Caesar

Caesar is one of two former murder accused to have pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges after the massacre of 12 persons at Bartica on February 17, 2008. He and fellow convict Clebert Reece, called ‘Chi Chi,’ were initially indicted for murder in the shooting deaths of 12 men at Bartica. Both men had, however, indicated their desire to plead guilty to lesser counts of manslaughter, which was accepted by the State.

Like Reece, Caesar accepted that on February 17, 2008, at Bartica, he unlawfully killed Lance Corporal Zaheer Zakir and Constables Shane Fredericks and Ron Osborne, along with Edwin Gilkes, Dexter Adrian, Irving Ferreira, Deonarine Singh, Ronald Gomes, Ashraf Khan, Abdool Yasseen, Errol Thomas, and Baldeo Singh.

Three other accused are currently on trial for the murders.

Last month, Justice George sentenced Reece to 35 years in jail for his involvement in the crimes.

In late October, Caesar had pleaded guilty to unlawfully killing the 12 at Bartica but his sentencing was, however, deferred to facilitate the presentation of a probation report and the filing of the additional charges regarding the eight persons he killed at Lusignan.

When presented with the additional indictments yesterday, Caesar accepted that on January 26, 2008, at Lusignan, East Coast Demerara, he unlawfully killed eight of the 11 victims. He took responsibility for killing Clarence Thomas; his 12-year-old daughter Vanessa Thomas and his son 11-year-old son Ron Thomas; 32-year-old Mohandai Gourdat and her two sons, four-year-old Seegobind Harrilall and ten-year-old Seegopaul Harrilall; 22-year-old Shazam Mohamed; and 55-year-old Shaleem Baksh.

His pleas were accepted by the State.

Seecharran Rooplall, 56, his wife Dhanrajie Ramsingh, 52, and their 11-year-old daughter Raywattie Ramsingh, were the other lives lost at Lusignan in the wee hours of January 26.

In both massacres, the court was told, Caesar was a member of a gang led by now deceased gang leader Rondell “Fine Man” Rawlins.

‘Unfortunate background’

Wearing an expressionless countenance, and in a soft tone, Caesar, who sat calmly during the proceedings, told the court that he wanted to “show the family of the deceased mercy.”

But Justice George promptly pointed out to the convict that the time for him to have shown mercy was during the commission of the crimes. The judge noted that while she understood what he was trying to say, it was “too late for that.”

In his brief remarks, Caesar told the court that at a very young age he had left his Fyrish, Berbice home and came to Georgetown, where he began following “the wrong company.”

He further went on to say, that he wants to change his life around. The judge told him that he would have to do so while in prison, even as she admonished him to get into prison programmes that can effect that change.

In her stern reprimand, she emphasised that a life of crime and being imprisoned should not be aspirations. “Crime and imprisonment is not the life…,” the judge emphasised.

The Probation Officer, from his report, indicated that the convict came from an “unfortunate” background, though he pointed out that that this was no excuse for him turning to a life a crime.

He said that due to the lack of provision from his father, Caesar, from the tender age of 12, left school to seek work to help support his mother and siblings. He said the young lad found employment working for an aunt in the interior.

The officer said Caesar also told him that it was after he had gone to the interior to work and returned “that all hell broke loose” and he gravitated towards unsavoury characters.

According to the Probation Officer, the convict operated at a “deficit of cognitive and intellectual abilities. He added that the fact that Caesar never completed his formal education contributed to him gravitating towards friends of “undesirable characters,” who were “daring and deadly.”

He said that while conducting interviews in Caesar’s Fyrish hometown, there were some who knew little of him, while others said they were fearful of him and that his name was “synonymous with criminal activities.”

The officer said Caesar’s mother, however, described him as “generous and kind,” as did two neighbours, who recalled him as always being willing as a child. The officer said there were others who said the path down which the convict went may have been due to other family members, who were also involved in “alleged criminal activities.”

The Probation Officer also reported that Caesar had related that he could not exhibit weakness, regret, nor sympathy to his fellow gang members for the crimes in which they were involved due to his fear of retribution.

The officer said Caesar has, however, since expressed regret for being involved in the crimes and has expressed remorse for the lives lost, while noting that the victims should not have died in such a brutal manner.

‘Trigger happy’

In mitigation, Caesar’s attorney, Maxwell McKay, while acknowledging the brutal nature of the crimes, begged Justice George to take into consideration that his client had taken responsibility for his actions.

He also asked the court to consider the circumstances under which his client grew-up and the pressure exerted on him by peers.

Counsel noted too that his client had pleaded guilty at the first given opportunity—saving the court considerable time in otherwise having to conduct a trial.

It was at this juncture in the proceedings that the judge asked the lawyer why she should not hand down life or consecutive sentences for the 20 deaths against his client’s name.

Justice George pointed out that what was of grave concern to the court was the fact that after being a part of a gang which wreaked havoc at Lusignan, in which he killed eight innocent persons, Caesar, again, with wanton disregard for human life, went to Bartica, mere weeks later, and he participated in killing innocent people there as well.

The explanation offered in response by McKay was that “Fine Man” was “trigger-happy” and that Caesar could have lost his life if he had resisted.

“So it is his (Caesar’s) life versus the 20 that were killed?” the judge then rhetorically asked McKay.

After standing the matter down for some time to consider the lawyer’s submissions and all the circumstances of the case, Justice George returned to the bench with her ruling and sentences.

Using case-law authority to direct her sentence and taking into consideration all the aggravating factors, the judge started the sentencing for the Lusignan massacre at a base of 65 years. Seven years were then deducted for time spent in prison, 11 for the guilty plea and two for mitigating factors.

These deductions resultantly brought the sentence for the Lusignan massacre to a total of 45 years on each of the eight manslaughter counts, which the judge said will be served concurrently.

With regards to the Bartica massacre, Justice George commenced at a base of 75 years; making only one deduction—that being 15 years for the convict’s guilty plea. He was then sentenced to 60 years on each of the 12 manslaughter counts, which will also be served concurrently.

The judge noted that the two sets of sentences are also to run concurrently, while adding that Caesar must serve 40 calendar years before being eligible for parole.

Prosecutor Diana Kaulesar, who represented the State in association with Stacy Goodings, said that on the night of January 26, the convict and several other persons participated in the killing of 11 persons, including children.

Relating the facts of the case, which were not disputed by the defence, Kaulesar said that the accused received a call from someone who told him he had “a big pay to go on.” She said that night about 8, he travelled to the Buxton Line Top, where he met “Fine Man,” “John I,” “Chung Boy,” “Mud-Up,” “Small Fren,” and two other persons.

The court heard that they all waited there for some time for two others to join them and they drank “Guinness and smoked weed” while waiting. She said “Fine Man,” “John I,” and “Mud-Up,” were carrying big guns.

The prosecutor said that a car later arrived with two persons—“White Boy” and “Short Man”—who spoke to “Fine Man,” who in turn informed them that there was a house at Lusignan Pasture, which had two barrels of money and that they were “going for pay.”

After arriving at Lusignan, Kaulesar said that Caesar had related that they did not know which house contained the money, and so “dem boys start fuh shoot-up and run in some houses.”

Prosecutor Kaulesar said that while Caesar had related that he was not armed, there was evidence that he was in fact in possession of an AK-47 rifle. She said he had, however, admitted to invading houses, which he ransacked, in search of money.

The court heard that after barging into about four to five homes during a shooting rampage that lasted about half an hour, the gunmen left.

Kaulesar said Caesar was arrested one year later, after being escorted from Suriname, and was placed on an ID parade in which he was positively identified as one who participated in the Lusignan killings.

She added that based on evidence, he was subsequently indicted for eight of the 11 killings.

In the presentation of the facts for the Bartica massacre in October, Kaulesar had informed the court that Caesar travelled from Nabaclis, on the East Coast Demerara, in the company of other members of the “Fine Man” gang.

She said the men travelled to Bartica, where they docked at the stelling. Caesar, who was dressed in soldier’s uniform, was carrying an AK-47 gun and two loaded magazines.

The court was told that the convict, along with others, left the boat and went to the Bartica Police Station and within minutes shots could be heard.

The prosecutor had said that thereafter the men then went back to the Bartica stelling, carrying more guns, a bullet proof vest and two steel canisters containing money and gold.

At the stelling, the court was told, “Fine Man” shot six men who were put to lie on the ground.

The prosecutor said that after Caesar and the other gang members left Bartica, they travelled to Linden, where they camped out in hiding and divided the money and gold among themselves.

Kaulesar said that that while in custody, Caesar give investigators a written statement in which he admitted that three weeks prior to the shootings he was informed that they would be going on a “big wuk.”

The prosecutor said the convict also admitted to the shooting at the Bartica Police Station as well as driving along the road in a police vehicle “licking shots wild, wild.” She said he spoke of getting guns and canisters.

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