Sun | Sep 15, 2019

Editorial | Who hires a killer?

Published:Saturday | September 22, 2018 | 12:00 AM

The rumour mill is churning furiously as questions swirl over Thursday's murder of the young St Catherine pastor, James Johnson. He was reportedly shot in the back while teaching a class in church.

One of the early theories is that this may have been a contract killing. When robbery or reprisal is ruled out as the motive for a killing, and there is no evidence that the killing was sparked by a fracturing of professional or personal relationship, it is often labelled a contract killing. There have been several mysterious killings this year that have been affixed with the label of 'contract killings'.

There are compelling reasons why hired guns may be used to settle scores in this country. The first is that Jamaica is awash with guns and there is profit to be made from criminality. The second has to do with the slow pace of justice where persons who feel they have been wronged have to wait many years before their cases are dealt with. The reality is that many people are in a hurry to get justice and they are not prepared to wait on the courts.

Then we cannot ignore the fact that a growing number of Jamaicans have developed the reputation for extreme violence. They live in a violent world and are sometimes eager to make a name in the criminal world.

In February, this newspaper reported that the police were intent on increasing the arrest of so-called masterminds who hire gunmen to carry out killings. Senior Superintendent Cleon March of the Major Investigation Division noted then that fees for contract killing ranged from $50,000 to J$1 million.

In that interview, the superintendent's frustration came to the fore when he lamented thus: "Quite a number of murders happen in that vein right across the island: Spanish Town, Clarendon, St James, you name it." Based on the superintendent's assessment, murder-for-hire cases similar to those dramatised in Mafia movies of old appear to be on the rise in Jamaica.

As far as arrests go, we note two of recent times that have been publicised in the high-profile case involving a domestic falling-out between a businesswoman and her husband. Contract killers and the persons who hire them appear to have an uncanny way of slipping into the shadows after committing their crimes. For even though the police say they are following strong leads, many contract-style killings remain unsolved and the perpetrators are getting away with murder.

The haunting question is whether the police are really equipped with the necessary investigative muscle and the tools to go after the killers and the persons who hire them.




This latest killing occurred in the zone of special operations. The emergency powers given to the police by Parliament were not enough to deter the gunman, and the fact that all of seven spent shells were found at the murder scene indicates the impunity with which he carried out his task.

What is particularly chilling is that these targeted murders usually occur in the streets with witnesses looking on in horror. It is even more chilling to know that these criminals who are prepared to kill for cash are often never brought to justice.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has acknowledged that the investigative capability of the Jamaica Constabulary Force is not up to snuff. We have been pointing to this gap for years and we believe any comprehensive crime plan must employ the necessary manpower to ensure that the central characters in the murder-for-hire plot are brought to justice in a timely manner.