Two weeks ago this newspaper featured on its front page the following headline: “Why Is Crime Lab Idle?” Answers to the question were supplied by Valerie Fuller, an American who had served as a forensic DNA consultant at Saint Lucia’s only forensic laboratory.
In her own telling (STAR, 18 September 2013), Ms Fuller had resigned her position last March, having brought native Saint Lucian staff up to “international personnel standards in number, in experience and in education.” One of them, she wrote, had acquired “a masters degree in forensic science,” therefore was “qualified to assume the position of technical leader,” earlier held by Ms Fuller.
She went on: “I was proud to have left Saint Lucia a fully-functional DNA lab.” But she remained absolutely disappointed with both the lab’s managers at the justice ministry and the office of the DPP. Throughout her stint here, she claimed, they had done little more that place obstacles in the way of progress.
Indeed, one of the reasons proffered for her resignation was that she might be free to speak out on, among other things, why the lab remains to this day unaccredited, and to address what she considered the unfair treatment of qualified local personnel, to say nothing of Saint Lucians generally who needed to know why they were not benefitting from the services of the expensively well-equipped facility. She cited at least one murder that might have been successfully resolved with available DNA evidence but had remained pending for lack of cooperation from the office of the DPP.
Ms Fuller’s published revelations were by any measure discombobulating and the immediate public reaction was outrage. It did not help that almost from her appointment by the pre-2006 Kenny Anthony administration this present DPP has been, for scores of regular citizens as well as countless frustrated crime victims inexplicably denied justice,
a monumental disappointment.
Here now is a small sampling from online STAR readers that echo locally expressed sentiments:
“OMG! This is scary reading and sadly confirms the state of our justice system. As a family member of a homicide victim, this is extremely distressing. Where does the bomb need to go off to get justice for the people . . .”
“Wow, corruption is everywhere. Aren’t those in charge never ashamed of themselves? Are they unbothered by their gross indifference towards the victim’s mourning family?”
“Is there an opposition in the House? Are they too incompetent to effect action? The forensic lab appears to be a mess requiring urgent government investigation.”
“Interesting that Mr. La Corbiniere says all’s well at the lab. So who’s telling the truth? This mess cannot be allowed to continue.”
“Very sad for Saint Lucia . . . but not surprising. The police and our politicians are not committed and dedicated to solving crime in this country!”
Two days following publication of Valerie’s Fuller’s shocking revelation the woman on whom the people of Saint Lucia depend for crime prosecution, not to say justice, made one of her Haley’s Comet appearances. Actually, Veronica Charles appeared three times in succession, a local record of sorts, on Choice TV and on state-owned RSL with Shelton Daniel. The STAR’s calls to the DPP’s office, perchance also to secure an interview, proved futile.
In any event, there was in what the DPP told her hardly confrontational interlocutors little that was new or unusual. The questions put to her vaguely related to Ms Fuller’s assertions, not the situation at the crime lab at this time. The listener was left with the impression that the interviewers knew next to nothing about the scores of pending cases involving citizens long-incarcerated at Bordelais for no other reason than that they are too poor to make bail. Or about the acknowledged 400 unresolved homicides committed over the last ten years. Or about the several rapes never prosecuted for one reason or another, including pressures placed on victims by the accused, tacitly aided and abetted by state shortcomings. Or that the interviewers simply didn’t give a damn.
As she had on the rare occasions when sustained public pressure had forced her out of her crustacean hideout, the DPP blamed her alleged ineptitude on staffing problems, on under-funding, on the shortage of magistrates, on criminal-court judges inter alia.
As for the issue at hand, the idle multiple-million-dollar crime lab that in Fuller’s telling had been permitted to become a white elephant thanks to inefficiencies at the justice ministry and the office of the DPP, Charles’ comeback was that her office did not manage the lab. But then Fuller had never stated otherwise. Over and over, the forensic scientist had pointed accusatory fingers at both the ministry and the DPP’s office. The devil’s combo, by all Fuller had written. Clearly when she referred to unprosecuted court cases she placed responsibility on the DPP’s office. Her references to the ministry related to what Fuller considered its general mismanagement of the lab.
But then her questioners were never obviously concerned with accountability. In their circumstances what was called for was damage control. So when the DPP claimed a particular 2010 murder had in fact come before the courts, contrary to what Fuller had asserted, no one asked about the result, let alone whether available DNA evidence had been placed before the jury. Indeed, the DPP’s alleged staff and funds shortages proved the impenetrable shield against all that had been aimed at her office.Had her questioners dared to throw other than full tosses in her direction, all she had to do was hold up her all-purpose defense mechanism: no money, no staff, no judges, lousy police investigators, crown counsels too busy battering their accommodating baby mamas!
It took a caller (or did his question arrive via email?) to ask about the status of the investigation into the highly publicized misuse of Taiwanese funds by ministers in the King administration. The current prime minister and other members of his Cabinet had repeatedly assured the nation that the police and the DPP were engaged in bringing to justice the guilty parties, some of whom his government had already publicly prejudged.
For once the DPP did not take cover behind her no-funds-no-staff shield. Her response, as it came over my radio, seemed coated with contempt (disdain?) thick as molasses: “If the prime minister says he has handed evidence to the police, then I’ll wait to hear from the police on the matter!” or words to that effect. Good enough for her interviewer, if not for the concerned.
There was no obvious interest in the real victims of the excused ineffectiveness of the DPP’s office, regardless of who or what is blamable. I speak, first of all, of the disgustingly high number of citizens killed and forgotten, their relatives and other loved ones. Also of the raped and otherwise sexually abused with little chance of seeing their animalistic attackers brought to justice. I speak, too, of citizens for years held unconstitutionally behind bars without even a trial date. No one involved in the PR exercise seemed to care that the whole country is forced to pay, one way or another, for the maintenance of a tax-funded office that for whatever reasons is absolutely dysfunctional, if not an encouragement to even normally right-thinking citizens to commit crime.
We are all only too familiar with the still unresolved matter of 13-year-old Verlinda Joseph, brutally raped, forced to drink poison then strangled. The lone suspect, recently released on bail after an unidentified overseas charity donated the required $60,000, had been languishing behind bars for over ten years.
The DPP has blamed the last mentioned human rights violation on the usual, and also on the broke suspect’s unreliable lawyers. She has never explained why, contrary to the practice in similar circumstances, the state had never assigned the suspect in this case a tax-funded defense lawyer.
Recently, groups of allegedly concerned citizens have taken to arm-in-arm street walking in a declared effort to make some kind of useful impression on the nation’s criminals, in particular it’s killers and rapists. I kid you not, dear reader. No surprise that the marches have attracted politicians of all colors. To think many citizens had ridiculed the current prime minister several years ago when, if only symbolically, he had on bended knee begged the killers, the rapists, the dope traffickers and other lawbreakers in his constituency to “please give the people a break for Christmas!”
Public marches had also followed the 8 p.m. brutal raping and slaying of Valerie Lorde several unlit yards from her home; ditto the lunchtime murder of Giselle Georges at her parents’ Bonne Terre residence. There have been several others similarly despatched, their murders similarly unresolved, similarly unaccounted for by the DPP’s office. Did I mention that most of the street-walking “criers for justice” had, unlike the former attorney general Petrus Compton, refused to blame “the system that let Verlinda down!”
And speaking of marches to nowhere, the latest word is that residents at the egregiously neglected Marian Home are gearing up to take to streets. Well, good for them. But deprived, desperate and deserted though they may be, still they are better off than the beautiful and vivacious 20-year-old Hannah Defoe who, shortly before she left her family in the UK two years ago for a 2-week vacation in Saint Lucia, had sent out on Twitter the following message: “Why cry when you can laugh? Why walk when you can dance?
Why argue when you can banter? That’s my secret to loving life!”
Hannah was the cousin of Tottenham Hotspur striker Jermain Defoe, who has family connections with Saint Lucia. Prior to Hannah’s visit the government had declared him a Goodwill and Sports ambassador for Saint Lucia, doubtless hoping to benefit from his fame. While on a visit to Saint Lucia, Defoe had visited schools and football clubs, to which he made monetary donations. He had also expressed a desire to set up a local football academy.
Several hours after his cousin had shared via Twitter her “secret to loving life,” Hannah’s corpse was discovered at the bottom of her hotel’s swimming pool. An autopsy
established cause of death as electrocution.
Almost three years later there has not been a related inquest. Quite atypically, the government handpicked a former senator and gas station operator to investigate whether any of the laws governing the electrification of commercial premises were violated. His long-submitted report remains classified, which is not to say only official eyes have perused it.
Suffice it to say at this point that the government and other parties will have a hard time explaining the wall-to-wall mediocrity, for which Goodwill Ambassador Jermain Defoe’s unsuspecting cousin, in the prime of her time, paid the supreme price.
Count on it, this is not a subject the justice ministry or the DPP’s office will be in any great hurry to discuss!