'We found bodies at start of operation'
A high-ranking member of the Jamaican military has testified that one day into the May 2010 operations in Tivoli Gardens, his unit stumbled upon a pile-up of decomposing bodies inside the May Pen Cemetery, located in west Kingston.
Lieutenant Colonel David Cummings, who was the commander of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) Engineering Regiment at the time, said members of his unit photographed the bodies. Four of those pictures were displayed during yesterday's sitting of the West Kingston Commission of enquiry.
Cummings testified that he and members of his combat engineering team ended up at May Pen Cemetery on the morning of May 25, 2010, after he got information that "a large cache of weapons" was hidden there.
"When we arrived at May Pen Cemetery [and] commenced the search we came across an overpowering stench, and within minutes we saw the source of the stench," he said.
"It was a series of bodies that were piled up ... bloated, maggot-infested and, in my opinion, seemed to have been there for some time," Cummings testified, before indicating that the bodies were photographed.
However, attorney for the Office of the Public Defender (OPD) Lord Anthony Gifford, immediately raised questions about the date the photographs were taken.
"I am being told that these pictures were not taken on the 25th. They were taken days later," Gifford asserted.
"My friend should not ascribe a terrible sight from this witness as having been seen on the 25th of May and illustrated by photographs taken several days later," he continued.
This prompted the intervention of commission chairman David Simmons.
"Who photographed these slides?" he asked Cummings.
"A member of my combat engineering team, chairman," the lieutenant colonel replied.
"On the 25th?" Simmons pressed.
"Yes, sir," Cummings replied.
To bolster Cummings' testimony, attorney for the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) Deborah Martin, alerted the three-member commission that it already had statements from senior police personnel indicating the existence of the bodies.
"You have statements from the [JCF] officers who said they had to do on-spot post-mortems [with a doctor present] ... they had to bury the bodies there ... they had to take photographs and do video filming," Martin underscored.
In earlier testimony, Corporal Marvin McLennon recounted how two blasts, minutes apart, caused the 27-ton front-end loader he was operating during the operations to tilt to one side and the front wheels to "lift off the ground".
McLennon also testified that he had to use the heavy-duty equipment - which was also on display at the Jamaica Conference Centre - to shield other members of the JDF from heavy gunfire as they made there way into Tivoli Gardens to apprehend drug kingpin Christopher 'Dudus' Coke.
He recounted how bullets from what he believed was a 50-calibre rifle smashed the front-end loader's reinforced bullet-proof glass in line with his forehead and the side of his head, but insisted that he never thought of retreating.
"If I had retreated, then the Jamaica Defence Force would lose many soldiers," said McLennon, who was awarded the badge of honour for
gallantry a year later.