Dudus to see proof
Jermaine McCalpin, Gleaner Writer
MANHATTAN, New York:
Christopher 'Dudus' Coke should in two months get his hands on some of the evidence that constitutes the legal arsenal of the United States government in its quest to convict him of drug smuggling and the trafficking of illegal guns.
Coke, a strongman who was toppled from his Tivoli Gardens throne by the Jamaica army and extradited last Thursday after a monthlong manhunt, will also have to prove that he can bankroll his preferred legal team from untain-ted funds.
Like his court hearing in Kingston last week, yesterday's session at a Manhattan federal court ran approximately 15 minutes.
Court-assigned attorney Russell Neufeld was accompanied by Coke's potential legal team - Frank Doddato, Steven Rosen and Nicholas Matassini - the latter telling The Gleaner that he would be the frontman of the defence triumvirate if Coke could present proof, in 30 days, that his money was clean.
Matassini said he was the lead counsel in the defence of Norris 'Deedo' Nembhard, a Jamaican who was extradited and convicted of drug-smuggling and money-laundering charges.
Dudus all but presidential
Though there were the standard security checks at the courthouse, there was little indication that this was the preliminary appearance of a man described by the United States as one of the world's most dangerous drug kingpins.
Coke, who is being held at the Metropolitan Detention Centre - a block away from the courthouse - entered the room in navy blue prison overalls, his slow, deliberate gait a contrast to the swagger of the one-time 'President', as he was known across Jamaica. He said nothing during the session.
Neufeld complained to Judge Robert Patterson, who presided over yesterday's hearing, that his client had not been granted permission to receive government documents that were crucial to the case. The judge set August 25 as the date for him, Coke's lawyers and prosecutors to conference. The evidence should be with his legal team before then.
Coke's next court hearing will be on September 7.
After yesterday's session, Doddato told The Gleaner "the ball is now in play", and that Coke was optimistic, despite the frustrations associated with his detention.
"He's a real gentleman, completely different from what has been reported in the media. He's in very good spirits.
"He's not happy with being segregated and he expressed his love for Jesus," Doddato said, adding that the legal team spent two hours with Coke on Sunday.
The calm vista seen through the windows of the 24th floor - of the Brooklyn Bridge, with the Manhattan Bridge in the distance - was worlds away from the high-rises of Tivoli which, last month was turned into a bloody battleground which claimed 74 lives.
The courthouse was not bereft of Jamaican flavour, as about 35 supporters of Coke, including friends and family, insisted - before and after the hearing - that their man was innocent.
One woman, who gave her name as Susan and claimed that she once lived in Tivoli, said she had stopped cooking to come to court because she has known Coke since he was a child.
"Justice is going to prevail. We a go support him to the end. God a go do it fi him. Good over evil, mi seh!" said the woman.
Most of Coke's supporters said they were from the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and other sections of the Tristate Area.
Another friend of Susan's interrupted: "Di man have fi get a good lawyer. Prepaid lawyer nah go work," obviously in reference to fears that less-pricey state lawyers may handicap Coke's defence.
Even during the hearing there was a brief sideshow. As a thick silence hung in the courtroom at 4:05 p.m. EDT (3:05 p.m. Jamaica time) - the start time - it was broken by the shrill ring of a cellphone. A family member was quickly escorted out of the room.
When the hearing ended, a relative, who, like others, requested anonymity, said: "Them nah treat him right. Him cyaah get no visit. Them treating him like an animal. He has only been accused, not convicted, so why treat him like a criminal?"
Added an aunt: "He's my nephew and I support him. I know he's going to get through this trouble and trial. We not going to leave him. And I hope Jamaica supports him and stands by him."