Sat | Sep 25, 2021

‘It happened right in front of me’

Clarke’s widow yearns for justice, resolution 11 years after husband’s death

Published:Sunday | May 23, 2021 | 12:20 AMLivern Barrett - Senior Staff Reporter

The bullet-riddled house and vehicle at the Kirkland Heights home of Keith Clarke after the May 2010 operation in which he was killed by members of the security forces.
The bullet-riddled house and vehicle at the Kirkland Heights home of Keith Clarke after the May 2010 operation in which he was killed by members of the security forces.
A smashed television in the Clarke’s home.
A smashed television in the Clarke’s home.
Clarke
Clarke
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Keith Clarke did not have a familial relationship with drug lord Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke, nor did he know him, the widow of the slain businessman has revealed. Dr Claudette Clarke, who, for over a decade, has heard “a number of rumours” linking...

Keith Clarke did not have a familial relationship with drug lord Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke, nor did he know him, the widow of the slain businessman has revealed.

Dr Claudette Clarke, who, for over a decade, has heard “a number of rumours” linking her family to the once-feared Shower Posse boss, said she, too, has never met Coke.

“I’ve heard all of them (rumours). All I know is that I don’t know that person, and I am 100 per cent sure my husband did not know that person,” said Dr Clarke, refusing to utter Coke’s name.

“I don’t wish to call the name because I get so nervous to even call the name. But I know that my husband did not know that person and had nothing to do with that person,” she insisted.

Dr Clarke and her then teenage daughter watched in horror 11 years ago as Clarke, 63, was shot to death during a midnight raid led by the Jamaican military at their home in Kirkland Heights, St Andrew, on May 27, 2010.

A post-mortem report revealed that his body had 21 “gunshot entry wounds” – 16 of them to the back – which indicated that they were caused by automatic rifle fire.

A 2013 interim report to Parliament by the Office of the Public Defender indicated that the raid was based on “military intelligence” that Coke was hiding out at the Clarkes’ Upper St Andrew residence with “no fewer than seven heavily armed bodyguards”.

Dr Clarke insisted that was not true.

“There were three persons in the house at the time – my late husband, myself and my daughter,” she told The Sunday Gleaner during an exclusive interview on Friday. “Nobody else.”

Coke was on the run from local law-enforcement authorities who were seeking to have him extradited to the United States (US), where he was wanted on drugs and firearms charges.

The drug lord was already the central figure in a diplomatic stand-off between Kingston and Washington over the months-long delay by then Prime Minister Bruce Golding to give authorisation for the extradition.

Confirmation through a national broadcast that Golding had given the green light for Coke’s arrest quickly ignited tensions across the Jamaican capital.

When the security forces finally entered Coke’s heavily fortified west Kingston enclave of Tivoli Gardens on May 23, 2010, the drug lord mysteriously escaped, leaving behind a trail of death and destruction in what has been described as the deadliest internal security operation in Jamaica’s history.

A total of 69 civilians and one member of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) were killed in nearly two days of fierce gun battles between the security forces and thugs loyal to Coke during the May 2010 operation.

WIDE SPECULATION

The raid on the Clarkes’ Upper St Andrew home triggered wide speculation about possible ties between the drug lord and the family of the respected businessman.

Dr Clarke recounted one incident when she overheard another woman saying some of the “most horrible” things about her.

The incident, she said, happened while she was at a function seated among four other women days after her husband’s death.

“One lady, she was there talking about the whole thing and I was there listening. And she was talking about me and saying some horrible things about me,” Dr Clarke recalled, refusing to repeat what she heard.

The woman reportedly indicated that she knew Dr Clarke “from long time”, when another person in the group questioned the source of her information.

“So, I turned to her and said, ‘You know her?’,” Dr Clarke recounted, indicating that the woman answered in the affirmative.

“So, if she walked through the door right now you would know her?” Dr Clarke continued, recalling her second question to the woman she did not identify, which was also answered in the affirmative.

“At that point now, the tears start coming down, so I got up and I said, ‘Excuse me, but I’m actually that person that you were just talking about’, and everybody was shocked.

“That was my personal experience with somebody saying something, and I’m saying that to say that’s how rumours spread,” she said.

Dr Clarke declined to detail what she witnessed in the master bedroom of her home on May 27, 2010, explaining that she did want her comments to impact the pending murder trial of the three JDF soldiers accused of killing her husband.

“It happened right in front of me. It’s something you can never forget.”

The killing was even more traumatic for the couple’s daughter, a sixth-form student at the time who had to sit Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations days after witnessing her father’s death.

“She did okay. She could have done better, but considering everything, she did okay and she has now completed her master’s [degree].”

Dr Clarke admitted that in the days after her husband’s killing, she was “angry” and “bitter”.

“I was scared. If I’m driving down the road and I see a group of soldiers coming my way, I would go crazy with panic and a get cold and start to tremble,” she said, disclosing that in 2018 she underwent emergency brain surgery, which her doctors believe was necessitated by the trauma from her ordeal.

Apart from her husband’s death, the hardest part, she said, is the long road to justice – “Going to court and nothing not happening, and it’s been 11 years.

“I’ve always believed in my country and the justice system. I hope that it will work, but as far as I am concerned, after 11 years, I’m still at square one,” she said.

Though she has no plans to abandon her quest for justice, Dr Clarke said she has found it in her heart to forgive her husband’s accused killers.

The case against the three soldiers – Corporal Odel Buckley, Lance Corporal Greg Tinglin and Private Arnold Henry – meandered through Jamaica’s snail-paced court system until it was discovered at the start of their murder trial in 2019 that they had certificates of immunity signed by former Minister of National Security Peter Bunting six years after the operation ended.

The Constitutional Court ruled last year that the certificates were null, void and invalid.

Still, the trial remains on hold because attorneys for the soldiers have gone to the Court of Appeal to challenge that ruling.

Dr Clarke said now, in addition to praying for her family members, she also prays for the three accused soldiers and their families.

“Because I’m saying my family is going through this, I wonder what their family is going through. And when I do, I feel better.

“Is not that I don’t want justice. I want justice, but you see, I want to be free in my heart. I don’t want to go around wishing them anything bad.”

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com