Jamaican soldiers to be charged in accountant’s death

KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) – Jamaica’s public prosecutor said Tuesday that three soldiers will be charged with killing accountant Keith Clarke, whose May 2010 shooting death occurred days after security forces launched an aggressive hunt for a fugitive underworld boss sought by the United States.

Clarke, the brother of a former government minister, was shot at least 22 times inside a bedroom of his home in the upscale Kingston community of Kirkland Heights. Security forces descended on the businessman’s house while searching for drug kingpin Christopher “Dudus” Coke.

In a letter to Jamaica’s independent commissioner of investigations, Prosecutor Paula Llewelyn wrote that nagging questions about the controversial case can only be resolved by a jury in a criminal trial.

Circumventing a preliminary inquiry process in magistrate’s court, Llewelyn said the Clarke case will be taken straight to the Home Circuit Court after the soldiers are arrested and charged by police, citing the “high public attention that this matter has commanded.”

Llewellyn identified the accused soldiers as Lance Cpl. Odel Buckley, Lance Cpl. Greg Tingling and Pvt. Arnold Henry.

A statement from the Jamaica Defense Force said it would not comment on matters before a court. Both Jamaica’s military and police have said almost nothing about the case since the killing.

Clarke was shot in his suburban home a few days after security forces launched a manhunt for Coke that resulted in the deaths of at least 73 civilians in the Tivoli Gardens slum, a politicized “garrison” community controlled by Coke’s gang.

Days before the fighting broke out in West Kingston, gangsters from across Jamaica had traveled to the barricaded neighborhood in a show of support for Coke. The gang leader was caught later and extradited to the U.S., where he was sentenced in June to 23 years in prison for drug trafficking.

The security offensive to catch Coke was one of the bloodiest episodes in the Caribbean island’s recent history. Details of the operation remain murky but there have been numerous claims of unlawful killings, including the death of Clarke. Even the death toll is disputed. Former Prime Minister Edward Seaga, who built the Tivoli Gardens housing complex in the 1960s and is still revered as a patron by residents, has estimated that as many as 150 people were killed.

An investigation by Public Defender Earl Witter into more than 1,000 complaints about rights violations by security forces during the state of emergency is still pending.

Terrence Williams, head of an independent commission that investigates abuse allegations against security forces, said his office is committed to assisting with the prosecution of the Clarke case. His report on the accountant’s killing was sent to prosecutors in May, following a 24-month wait for ballistics tests.

The initial investigation into Clarke’s death was started by a special police investigative team but was handed over to Williams’ commission in October 2010.

Claude Clarke, the slain man’s brother and a former government minister, has said the family is determined to get justice.

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