Wed | Jan 16, 2019

Martin Henry: Burying murdered Monica

Published:Sunday | September 20, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Martin Henry

Today we bury Marjorie Richards (Monica). It's been a long wait for her bereaved and distraught family.

Monica, a higgler plying her trade, was murdered at Fish Ground near Coronation Market in the early morning of Wednesday, July 29. Three youths attacked her, robbed her and stabbed her to death.

More than likely, you would not have heard about her murder. I myself heard no news broadcast, saw no newspaper story reporting the incident. The closest thing in mainstream media, which I later found online, was a report in THE WEEKEND STAR two days later about an unidentified woman being robbed and killed in the vicinity of Coronation Market the previous Wednesday morning.

Time and place suggested it was Monica. Then the usual lines in the endless murder reports: The police have processed the crime scene and their investigations are ongoing.

But within a couple of hours of the incident, my phone rang with news of Monica's murder and some details about how it happened. It was even known then that a ring she was wearing had been ripped from her finger by her killers.

The police are up against the stone wall of the 'informa-fi-dead' culture. But that's not their only problem. And it is not an impenetrable wall if the means are available and applied.

Monica, mother of nine, partner, hard-working self-employed woman, Jamaican citizen, has become nothing more than a minor addition to the country's climbing murder statistics. Recorded and forgotten.

The offmedia word-of-mouth stories point to identifiable perpetrators. But it would be quite a shock if police investigations proceeded any further beyond "processing the crime scene" and adding Monica to the mounting murder statistics. The police absolutely have no capacity to pursue and prosecute the vast majority of the murder cases occurring each year. If the entire 12,000-member force did nothing else but investigate and prosecute murder cases, it still would be under capacity, with 1,000+ new murders per year added to the horrendous backlog from previous years.

There has to be a murder triage. The police have to decide which few cases to pursue with their very limited resources, using a murky mix of class and status of victim, undercover directions from inside and outside the force, and guesstimates of how quickly a successful case can be assembled.

Monica's case, a daylight murder in a public place with strong leads to perpetrators, is a good case for successful prosecution. But she is a higgler with no big advocate. She joins the dozens of poor unknowns in West Kingston who have been murdered since the start of the year and whose cases will never reach a courtroom. She doesn't even have news value in a country which has degenerated to the normalisation of murder unless it is an 'exceptional' case. So people are left with a powerful incentive to settle their own matters without recourse to the law of the land.

The West Kingston commission of enquiry drags on. Sad to say, if Dudus were still 'President', Monica would still be alive today, selling in the downtown market district, something she had been doing before her young killers were born. Buying 'load' wholesale in the country and selling it little-little retail over very long hours in the market beginning before dawn several days per week. She had not too long come in that Wednesday morning and could not have sold very much. Any money she had would just be a few small bills and coins to make change. So either it was very petty robbery or not robbery at all that was the motive for her killing.

The don effectively enforced order, although operating outside the ineffective law of the land. People knew the rules and hol' dem corner. Monica's murderers a jus lickle youth dem on the loose, petty thieves and/or low-level hired eliminators who, it seems, she knew. In an area thick with guns, so low they are in the badman pecking order that they apparently had no access to firearms but had to resort to the knife for murder. They wouldn't stand a chance when Dudus run things.

The non-KSAC market 'tax' is common knowledge. It is extortion. But with a don in charge, it was predictable and bought a measure of safety and security which has always been a fundamental function of the State in exchange for taxes. With no one in charge, not mayor, not minister, not police, not don, every likkle youth can try a thing.

The raw wound of her killing is not the only pain that Monica's family has had to endure. There followed the long wait for the autopsy. Six weeks. Only one pathologist. And a distraught family without connections or the ability to pull strings, or to cash in favours. So they wait, and hope, and pray, and bawl. And regularly called the nice, but overwhelmed, investigating officer who always had the same message: "Yuh jus have fi wait, a plenty a dem, an' a one pathologist." Murders jamming the already weak system.

Pathologists are not easy to come by. Working on the dead to determine the cause of death is just not a very popular medical speciality. But no country can really cope well with the kind of pathology caseload which Jamaica generates. This is more like war casualties. A situation in which different rules apply. The time has come to rewrite the rules.

Minister of Health Fenton Ferguson has been talking up a storm about reducing the very well-named misery index of patients using public-health facilities. Back in May, the minister told the nation, "I have instructed the chairmen of the four regional health authorities to ensure that the misery index of persons within the health sector is reduced."

It is unconscionable that a grieving family, anxious to perform final rites for a dead loved one, is forced to wait six weeks, not six days, for an autopsy to be done.

Autopsies actually fall under the Ministry of National Security through the Forensics Lab which is in charge of doing them. But the misery index must go down here too.

Autopsy not necessary

As I understand it, under current rules, every case of sudden death requires an autopsy report before the body can be released to the family for burial. These include all road fatalities and all murders. The Government is strenuously seeking to ensure that no murder is masked as death by non-criminal means. But, considering the low numbers of prosecutions for murder, this is a rather pointless exercise which imposes a massive and unnecessary burden upon the families of deceased persons and upon the creaky state system responsible for autopsies.

In cases where the crime-scene (or accident-scene) investigators and the doctors pronouncing the person dead have no reasonable cause of suspecting that the death was caused by anything else other than the immediately visible cause, the autopsy requirement could well be waived.

In Monica's case, the autopsy report merely confirmed what had been already well established: Death by a single stab wound to the heart. Murder. Which suggests a premeditated intention to kill. The possibility of death by other means, followed by a stab inflicted upon the corpse, was pretty much nil. In any case, it is in the other direction that the autopsy is useful: When death appears to be from a non-criminal cause but is, in fact, murder.

Today, another Jamaican family buries a murdered loved one after weeks of painful waiting. No, not one, but several such families. With nearly four murders per day, the weekends are filled with funerals for the murdered dead. Monica is merely metaphor of the moment for the measureless mourning from murder in this land. To the world, but not to her family grieving irreplaceable and violent loss, merely a minor metaphor in the scheme of things. Another nameless number in the bloody police statistics to which others are added every day.

- Martin Henry is a university administrator. Email feedback to and