Belize City, October 2012
C O N T E N T S
The Preliminary Statements
The 1969 Trial
III Escape # 1
‘Denh Catch Rodney’
IV Escape # 2
Re: Edward Rodney
The headline in the Belize Billboard of June 18, 1957 boldly announced: Convict Rodney To Face Jury On Attempted Murder In Prison. Although violent crimes in Belize were not totally unheard of, and they were dutifully reported on in the country’s three existing newspapers1at that time, stories were mostly relegated to Belize’s political awakening in the early 1950s. In fact just four months previously the papers were full of stories describing how on March 20, 1957, the People’s United Party had swept all nine of the House seats in the Legislative election.
Although not totally engaging the attention of the people, for all of 13 years the name of a 25-year-old convict by the name of Edward Rodney could be heard on the lips of Belizeans. Rodney came to prominence while in the Belize Central Prison serving time for his 24th offence. While in prison he was charged with the attempted murder of prison warder Harold Stuart on May 7, 1957, and was committed to the jury session of the Supreme Court for trial in July 1957.
The Preliminary Statements
At the preliminary hearing before Magistrate Simeon Hassock in June 1957, Dr. B. Markowski testified that Stuart suffered a fractured skull which necessitated immediate surgery to relieve pressure on the brain. The doctor further said that the blow that fractured his skull was “dangerous to life” and Stuart “would suffer some after-effects from the injuries.”
Next to testify was Captain Norman Gonsalves, the Prison Superintendent, who stated that Rodney had been brought before him on May 7, 1957 by Stuart for stealing the valve of a bicycle. Rodney had been guilty of this and “a penalty of five days forfeiture of remission imposed.”
The testimony of Prison Officer Harold Stuart was very graphic, and is best related verbatim by the Belize Billboard reporter:
“On the day of the incident he was on duty and had had to speak to the accused for trying to leave the flight without permission. An argument followed, and the prisoner complained to Chief Officer Chavez. The prisoner was ordered back to his flight. After this the prisoners were marched out to tea and back to their cells to be locked up. Stuart said that he then proceeded to lock the cells. On reaching Rodney’s cell, he reached for the bolt. At that moment the accused threw open the door, which was unlocked, and struck him with a hammer in the right temporal region.
1 The Belize Billboard, the Daily Clarion, and the Belize Times
“Stuart staggered backwards and the accused rushed out of the cell and dealt him another blow on the back of his head, after which he became dazed. He was falling he said when he received another blow to the temple. After this, Stuart said, he remembered someone trying to lift him up. He had looked around and seen a prisoner, Carabajal, trying to lift him up.”
Prison Officer, Lloyd Cain, testified that on May 7 between 3.45 p.m. and 4.00 p.m. he and Stuart were in charge of locking up prisoners in the A-wing. While engaged in doing that he heard footsteps behind him and on turning around he saw Rodney walk into his cell. Stuart approached the cell and was about to lock the door, when suddenly Stuart threw up his hands above his head and at the same time fell backwards. Rodney then came out of his cell and struck Stuart another blow on top of his head. Stuart fell in the passageway and Rodney stood over him with the hammer. That is when Cain grabbed Rodney’s hand from behind and the hammer fell to the floor. While he tried to move Rodney away Rodney succeeded in stamping Stuart in the face saying: “Let me go. Let me go. I have finished what I have to do already.”
Another Prison Officer, David Williams said he saw Rodney going into his cell saying: “Anytime any of the officers they are ready, I am ready.” He then saw Rodney deliver several blows to someone, but he could not see to whom the blows were directed.
Other Prison Officers who had witnessed the altercation had conflicting accounts, or otherwise implied that Stuart had provoked Rodney into acting the way he did. Prison Warder Joseph Alcoser told the court that “on the day in question accused Rodney had sought permission from him to borrow a saw and a hammer from another prisoner, Raymond Lewis, to repair his cell table.” Alcoser had given the permission and Rodney had received the tools and taken them to his cell. Another Prison Warder, Wilfred Myvett, testified that he saw Stuart and Rodney standing about one yard apart, and “he had seen Stuart put his hand on his right pocket where he kept his staff.” He then heard Stuart say: ‘I don’t give a damn.’ At that point Stuart then motioned to draw his staff, but he did not. A little while later Myvett said he heard Rodney complaining to Chief Officer Chavez that “Stuart had drawn his staff at him.” A bit of hearsay entered the testimony here when Myvett quoted Stuart as having told him: “I am going to straighten some of you ……prisoners.” When asked by the Magistrate whether Myvett had actually heard Stuart use those words, Myvett replied that he had not. He had in fact seen though when Stuart had motioned as if to draw his staff, and on inquiring of Stuart what the matter was he had not received a reply.
The Police came into the picture when Sergeant Ricardo Munoz told the court that following the incident he had made investigations and had later charged Edward Rodney with attempted murder.
At the end of the preliminary hearing Rodney informed Magistrate Hassock that “he would reserve his defense until his trial came up in the Supreme Court.” He further stated that he would be calling as a witness Raymond Lewis, alias ‘Titi Wire.’
The Magistrate, in adjourning the hearing, told Rodney that he would be remanded in custody until his trial at the next session of the Supreme Court beginning on July 2, 1957.
The Belize Billboard of Thursday, July 11, 1957 carried the headline: Rodney Tried to Hammer Stuart to His Death Inside Jail Walls A.G. Says. The Supreme Court trial of Edward Rodney charged with the attempted murder of Prison Warder Harold Stuart commenced on July 10 before the Acting Chief Justice, Mr. Enriquez.
In his opening statement the Attorney General, Charles Henville, stated that the two charges in the indictment – attempted murder and dangerous harm – were exclusive. He explained that “an ‘attempt’ is an act that if not interrupted would culminate in one result. Under the local Code a person is presumed to intend natural consequences of his act. Dangerous harm is any harm that is dangerous to life.”
Harold Stuart was the first witness to be called for the prosecution, and he reiterated his account of the incident given in the preliminary hearing. He further recalled that he had been wearing a helmet when he was struck in the head by Rodney, and when he regained consciousness he was in the Belize City Hospital.
At that point in the proceedings the Court visited the Prison, and on resumption at 1:30 in the afternoon, Stuart was cross-examined by defense counsel Arthur Balderamos. Stuart denied that he had gone into Rodney’s cell and tried to club him with his staff because Rodney had complained about him.
The Surgeon Specialist, Dr. Markowski, elaborated on the effects that the hammer blows inflicted on Stuart could have: headaches, giddiness, and loss of memory. He said that Stuart had been admitted to the Hospital on May 7, 1957 “in a wounded state which required an immediate operation.” He went on to describe what he found: “The operation had showed two bleeding wounds in the region of the right temple. The first wound was about two inches long and did not penetrate far enough to reach the skull. The second wound was about an inch and a half long and had injured the skull by compressing a piece of the skull bone, a piece of which about half an inch long had penetrated deep into the brain. On the exterior there had been bruises on the forehead and on the nose. In his operation he had removed the piece of bone from the brain.”
In his testimony Chief Prison Officer, Maurice Chavez, said that on the same day of the incident Rodney had complained to him that Stuart had threatened “to fix you prisoners” and had also drawn his staff at Rodney. Rodney told him that Prison Officer Myvett was a witness to Stuart’s threat and action, which Myvett subsequently denied in the presence of Rodney and Chavez. At that time Rodney had walked off uttering: “Any officer that pulls a staff on me, I am going to satisfy myself.” Shortly after, Officer Cain approached him with Rodney in custody and reported that Rodney had beaten Officer Stuart with a hammer. Rodney was shouting: “Let me go. I won’t do anything more because I have satisfied myself.”
Under cross-examination Chavez said that at the time Stuart was sent to the Hospital his staff was still in his pocket; and actually the staff was sent back to the Prison afterwards along with Stuart’s clothing.
On the third day of the trial, Friday July 12, the Chief Justice dismissed the jury so that he could hear arguments on the law as it affected Edward Rodney. Previously Prison Officer Williams had testified that he saw Rodney going towards his cell with a hammer in his hand, and shortly after he saw Rodney strike at someone who he did not see at the time. Rushing to the cell he then saw Stuart lying on his back bleeding.
Cil Carabajal, the prisoner who first came to Stuart’s aid, said that on the day in question he had heard noises and on approaching he saw Rodney with a hammer in his hand. He shouted to Rodney that he would get into trouble, and just then Rodney delivered a blow to Stuart. He pulled Rodney away and when the hammer fell to the floor Rodney stamped Stuart in the face. On cross-examination Carabajal said part of Stuart’s foot was in the cell; he had not seen Prison Officer Cain during the struggle; and he had not seen Stuart’s staff on the ground.
Throughout the proceedings Rodney did not call Raymond Lewis as a witness as he had promised, and neither did he testify at his trial.
With Carabajal as the last witness to take the stand, the Chief Justice adjourned the court proceedings on Friday July 12, and announced that closing arguments by counsels would take place on Monday, July 15.
Defense counsel Balderamos spent just over two hours on the morning of July 15 putting to the jury that Edward Rodney, charged with the attempted murder of Harold Stuart, acted in self-defense. Balderamos argued that Stuart deliberately went across the prison flight to Rodney’s cell, and even while Officer Cain was locking prisoner Raymond Lewis in an adjoining cell Stuart went into Rodney’s cell and lifted his staff to hit Rodney. Balderamos gave as the reason for Stuart going into Rodney’s cell was in retaliation of Rodney reporting Stuart “for use of coarse language” to him a few minutes earlier. Counsel said that Stuart had also used ‘coarse’ language to another officer at that time, “and was obviously in a temper that drove him into Rodney’s cell.” Once in the cell, in the theory of Balderamos, Stuart lifted his staff to hit Rodney. That is when Rodney hit him with the hammer once in defense “and again when Stuart stood his ground in fighting temper.”
When the proceedings resumed in the afternoon Attorney General Henville was quick to counter the self-defense theory of Balderamos, by asking the question: “How could a man be hit on the back of the head by another in self-defense?” After all, Henville argued, Stuart was in the act of locking down Rodney when Rodney hit him with a hammer on his helmet lacerating his scalp; and then Rodney hit him again on his bare head, driving a piece of bone from his skull into his brain. Rodney was annoyed from earlier because Stuart had brought him before the Superintendent for discipline which cost Rodney three days from his remission period. In effect then, the Attorney General said, “Rodney had seized the opportunity of doing Stuart harm intentionally and deliberately.”
(To be coninued in next Friday’s issue of the Amandala)