Sun | Oct 22, 2017

When did they die?

Published:Friday | July 3, 2015 | 12:00 AMLivern Barrett
Lieutenant Colonel David Cummings
Christopher 'Dudus' Coke as captured by video in a holding cell at the Jamaica Defence Force's headquarters in 2010.
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The Office of the Public Defender (OPD) has signalled that it has evidence challenging the testimony of a senior military official that he saw a pile-up of decomposing bodies inside May Pen Cemetery in west Kingston one day after the start of the May 2010 police-military operations in Tivoli Gardens.

The disclosure came as the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry saw video footage of drug kingpin Christopher 'Dudus' Coke dressed in a white Polo shirt and looking relaxed as he sat in a holding cell at the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) headquarters, Up Park Camp, shortly after he was captured in June 2010.

"A mi did a try fi turn miself in so mi nah go try fi escape," Coke is heard in the video telling the JDF officer tasked with ensuring his safety while he was in the custody of the army.

CONFLICTING DATES

Lieutenant Colonel David Cummings told the commission on Wednesday that he and members of the unit he led at the time were at the cemetery on May 25, 2010 to search for "a large cache of weapons", when they stumbled upon between 18 and 20 decomposing bodies, which they photographed.

Yesterday, during cross-examination by the attorney for the Independent Commission of Investigations Rhona Morgan, Cummings went further, testifying that the state of decomposition he saw led him to assume that the individuals were "dead for a couple of days".

"Suggesting that they died before the 23rd of May [a day before the operations began]?" Morgan questioned.

"Yes, Ma'am," Cummings replied.

That assertion was, however, challenged by attorney for the OPD, Lord Anthony Gifford, who pointed to post-mortem reports and witness statements, including at least two from senior members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, which appear to contradict Cummings' testimony.

According to Gifford, the commission is in possession of post-mortem reports that estimate the time of death for all but one of the bodies found at the cemetery, at May 24 and some time after.

In addition, he said, the statements of Superintendent Gladys Brown and one "Senior Superintendent Stewart" indicated that the bodies were discovered on May 26.

"If that is the evidence that a forensic pathologist will give, do you accept that your guess maybe wrong?" Gifford asked Cummings.

"I'm no expert in this matter. I gave a guess, which was to the best of my knowledge and understanding of the matter, but I will defer to the experts who can guide us," he replied.

As a result, the OPD attorney urged the Sir David Simmons-chaired commission to conduct a thorough probe of the differing accounts of when the bodies where discovered.

"I think it is very important that this commission should satisfy itself as to the date this event was witnessed," Gifford underscored.

Simmons shared his concerns, noting at one stage, "we are at a very important juncture in this commission".

Cummings also gave evidence that an "elaborate and fully functional" surveillance system, a tunnel - estimated to be about 150 metres long - and copies of documents related to the extradition request for Coke were found in Tivoli Gardens.