Trinidad three hanged despite pleas

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The Independent Online
EARLY YESTERDAY warders in Frederick Street Prison, in the old quarter of Port of Spain, led a thickset inmate from his cell to the gallows outside, covered his head with a hood and placed the noose of the rope around his neck. At 6am the signal was given and the hangman pulled a wooden lever. A trapdoor snapped open and the 47-year-old man, Dole Chadee, swung.

Thus, after three years of legal wrangling that extended to the Privy Council in London and awoke old resentments across the Caribbean about Britain's still lingering judicial oversight in its former colonies, the government of Trinidad and Tobago had carried out the country's first hanging in five years.

By Monday morning it will be more than Chadee who will have met his end on Frederick Street. Two other men were hanged yesterday, at one-hour intervals.

Another three are due to go to the gallows today and a third group of three are to be executed in the same manner at dawn on Monday.

In going through with the executions Trinidad and Tobago was rejecting a last-minute petition for the death sentences to be commuted, from Amnesty International and figures including Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

A final appeal to the law lords in London yesterday morning also failed. Similar efforts by defence lawyers in the nation's own courts on Thursday were rejected.

In a lonely lament for the condemned men the bells of the Roman Catholic cathedral in Port of Spain tolled at 7.55am. Otherwise, remorse was not the mood in this bustling Caribbean capital city.

Polls have shown a nation unmoved by international protests against the executions, with more than 80 per cent consistently favouring the death penalty. Chadee, moreover, was a figure never likely to win sympathy.

A former drug baron made rich by the cocaine traffic from Latin America to the United States, Chadee was the feared leader of a gang of nine convicted in September 1996 for a multiple murder. Chadee had dispatched the other eight men to the home of Hamilton Baloolal, who had allegedly slighted him.

Ordered to take revenge, his henchmen shot Baloolal first and then his wife, his sister and his crippled father.

Yesterday, in the small crowd that had gathered outside the forbidding 30ft-high walls of the jail, only one voice dared speak out against the executions.

"We are going to take nine lives in an utterly barbaric way," complained Ishmail Samad, an ornithologist who leads bird-watching tours on the island. "We should not be allowing Dole Chadee to pull us down to his level."

Mr Samad, an isolated figure on the fringe of the crowd, carried a four- foot placard with a quote above the name of Arthur Koestler: "The gallows is not merely a machine of death but the oldest symbol of the tendency in Mankind to drive it towards moral destruction."

Others held radios giving commentaries on the executions as they occurred. News of the demise of Chadee came shortly after. The second convict, Ramkalawan Singh, who weighed only 90lb, was hanged at 7.27am. The third, Joey Ramiah, died at 8.30am.

There was only one gallows refurbished for yesterday's hangings. Fresh ropes were attached and boiled and stretched to allow maximum tautness and each body was left to hang for an hour after the opening of the trapdoor to ensure the man was dead.

The enthusiasm here for capital punishment has been fed by a frustration with rising violence and crime on the twin islands, much of it associated with gangs and the drug trade.

The popular hunger to see Chadee swing has been palpable for weeks. "Time's Up" blared the headline on the front page of the Trinidad Guar-dian yesterday. Winston Mathews, who was among those outside the prison walls after news of Chadee's execution was confirmed, said: "He is reaching Hell already. He should be in the Devil's arms now. I want him to go into the fire and for the fire to heat up some more."

A construction worker who declined to give his name was angered even to be asked whether executing Chadee and his accomplices was justified.

Innocent people were being gunned down on the islands all the time, he said, acting out such killings.

"They are on the ground, their hands around their head, and BOOM! We have to face that animals are living among us."

And nobody comes more dangerous than Chadee, he said. "If the fella has gone there to Hell, the Devil himself is going to run from him."

The case of the "Trinidad Nine" crystallised frustration felt in Britain's former Caribbean colonies with the continuing role of the Privy Council as their court of last resort. Most people in the region consider the council a vestige of colonialism.

Next month nine Caribbean members of the Commonwealth are expected to agree on replacing the council with a shared supreme court of their own. Frustration with the system boiled over in 1993, when the Privy Council ruled that condemned prisoners in the former Caribbean colonies should have their death sentences commuted if they had been on Death Row for more than five years.

Yesterday's hangings, which the council eventually declined to block, could spell an early end for Death Row inmates across the region. In Trinidad and Tobago alone there are more than a hundred, all in the Frederick Street jail.