Hushed court told of yacht slaughter died

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The Independent Online
BOB GRAHAM

Antigua

The cold-blooded murder of the four people on board a British racing yacht was described yesterday to the jury in the so-called "murder in paradise" trial.

First to die - blasted at point-blank range in the back and head - was Thomas Williams, a 22-year-old deckhand from Sarisbury Green, near Southampton.

He was followed by Kathy Cleaver, a 50-year-old grandmother from California who was a guest on British-owned Computa Center Challenger.

Mrs Cleaver tried to hide behind a table in the cabin of the 65-foot ketch but could not evade the double blast from a shotgun which hit her in the stomach and chest.

Next to be killed was Mrs Cleaver's husband, Bill, a 55-year-old former US naval officer, who had tried to shield his wife before being blasted in the chest.

The fourth victim was the 33-year-old skipper, Ian Cridland, from Bursledon, near Southampton, who had sailed the boat from the Hamble to the Caribbean just weeks before. He, too, was hit in the chest by the shotgun blast.

All four were trussed up - their hands tied tightly behind their backs - and their mouths taped with thick black electrical tape. They could not escape the killers, the court heard yesterday.

The shocking tale of how the four people were murdered in just a few minutes of violence in January 1994 was outlined to the High Court of Antigua, where two men are now facing murder charges.

A third man, Donaldson Samuel, who has pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the case, detailed the killings to the five-man, four-woman jury.

Samuel, 23, became the prosecution's star witness after confessing to his role in the deaths. He told the court he had been intent on robbing the four people aboard the Challenger, but refused to take part in the "senseless and sadistic murders".

The two accused, 23-year-old Marvin Joseph and 22-year-old Mellanson Harris, face the death penalty if they are convicted of the killings.

The deaths happened on board the Challenger when she was moored overnight in Low Bay, Barbuda - a deserted 10-mile-long bay of endless pink sand, which is a favourite attraction for Caribbean sailors and divers.

Samuel told the court yesterday: "Marvin [Joseph] he shot the first guy ... the young one. He tried to pass the gun to me and he say 'shoot'. But I would not take it and he pass it to Mellanson [Harris].

"Again he say 'shoot' and Mellanson he shoot, he shot the rest, the other three."

Samuel described to the hushed court how Williams had slumped forward onto the deck after being killed.

"The lady was next, she was trying to hide behind the cabin table. But Mellanson he shoot her and she just fell.

"Then the old guy, he was next, he was sitting beside the lady and his hands were tied and his mouth taped. Then next was the other guy, he was sitting on a chair." Relatives of the American victims wept in court.

Samuel, who now faces a maximum 30-year sentence, claimed he had not taken part in the butchery: "I was feeling kinda unwell. I said to the other two 'leave the people alone, let's go'. But they would not listen."

Clement Bird, for the defence, accused Samuel of repeatedly lying "to get yourself off the hook ... to escape being hanged."

The trial continues.

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