The nation of Belize breathed a sigh of relief on Tuesday morning when Justice Antoinette Moore handed down guilty verdicts on five men who had been charged with the savage murder of Pastor Llewellyn Lucas in July, 2016. The accused person who was at the center of the case, William Danny Mason, a foreign-born man who might have acquired Belizean nationality through suspect documentation, was acquainted with a number of high-ranking persons in the UDP Cabinet and government, and this added to the sensational nature of the case.
Mason, aka Ted Oullette, of Guyana or Canada, was a business partner of Hon. John Saldivar, the present Minister of National Security, who is also one of two Cabinet Ministers of the United Democratic Party (UDP) who are contesting for the post of leader of that party in a convention scheduled for February 2020. The winner of that race could become Belize’s next prime minister.
Our dismal conviction rate in murder cases and the close association between Mason and the government minister prompted a call from many quarters for intervention by foreign investigators. One of the most powerful organizations in the country, the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU), was the most prominent group to make this request for investigative help from abroad. The BNTU would go on strike in pursuance of various initiatives, and while the Dean Barrow government yielded on a number of issues the organization had brought forward, it did not yield to the call for the FBI or Scotland Yard to participate in the Mason investigation.
The present Commissioner of Police, Chester Williams, a trained attorney who was then the Deputy Commissioner of Police, took charge of the case in its initial stages. Throughout the investigation of the crime and the preparation to present it to the court, there was considerable pressure on him and his team to deliver compelling evidence against the parties the state had fingered as the suspects in the horrific crime. The outcome indicates that his work was thorough.
The effort is being touted as a triumph for our justice system. The prosecution branch got the information it needed from the police, and that department did not drop the ball. The state’s case was sufficient to convince the learned judge, Antoinette Moore, that all five were guilty under the law.
Commissioner Williams is only one of many who performed outstandingly for the justice system. In the presentation of her ruling, Justice Moore cited two officers of the law who, she said, produced outstanding work in the collection of evidence. The five men who were convicted are yet to be sentenced.
We expect there will be appeals. This is fair because, just as no man or woman should become a victim of murder, no one should be put away for a murder they didn’t commit.
The appeals process allows for more evidence to be brought forward. Sometimes witnesses who were afraid to talk suddenly become courageous. Sometimes a bit of evidence was not thoroughly investigated. Every person has a right to exhaust every avenue within the law in the interest of his/her freedom. All the beleaguered citizenry of Belize ask on the matter of appeals is that the judges who review the verdicts grasp the realities on the ground in Belize.
There are two tragedies, other than the murder of Pastor Llewellyn Lucas, that must concern us. On Tuesday, four vital Belizean young men were found guilty of this particularly vicious murder, and now, instead of contributing to this nation for the rest of their lives, they will quite likely be spending their remaining years, or most of them, behind bars, where their physical sustenance will be provided by the state.
This is no plea for tempering the sentence of these four Belizean men because they are in their productive years. We are just lamenting the extent of the loss, a loss our country must bear, so that all our citizens know that crime, especially murder, will not go unpunished.
The other tragedy is the savagery of the crime. We are shocked by the gruesomeness of this murder, horrified on recognizing that our beloved country could spawn and nurture young men who could be so callous, so cold, so brutal.
We cannot ignore the tragedy of four wasted lives, actually five when we think about Pastor Lucas, for he was a man who was still in his productive years. No one should fall victim to murder, or commit murder, and when we lose the young it is compounded by the economic loss. Five Belizeans, gone!
The murder of Pastor Lucas was one of 137 in 2016, this in a country with fewer than 400,000 people. The murder rate in Belize has been on the increase for a few decades, to the point where we are now ranked as one of the most murderous countries in the world. No post-independence Belize government has been able to arrest our descent into this tragic state.
We are living in a long night in which mostly young Belizean males from impoverished neighborhoods are killing each other over turf, for crumbs from the table of the major drug players, and for revenge for fallen brothers and friends who did not get justice from the system.
When the Leader of the Opposition, Hon. John Briceño, told the Prime Minister, Hon. Dean Barrow, a few years ago that his party would like to work more closely with the government in addressing the violence in the country, because it was nonsense for them to be taking turns accusing each other of being impotent on crime, the government did not grasp the proffered hand.
The victory of the justice system on Tuesday was one of few positives in recent times. There were three more murders last week, numerous near-fatal physical attacks, and six men went missing in the last two weeks, all of them believed murdered.
Last week we lost more lives on our highways than in any similar period in our history. Belize isn’t doing enough to protect its citizens and visitors when they are traveling on our highways and roads. All our roads are narrow, and so the danger is high. Our drivers must have perfect concentration at all times: any momentary lapse or mechanical failure can result in a major disaster. We apparently can’t afford to upgrade our road infrastructure sufficiently, so our authorities must be more effective in reminding drivers of the dangers.
In the midst of all this gloom, this terrible gloom, we had a bright spot in a very sad story this week. We are thankful for the single victory in this long night that seems to have no end.