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7371: The Case of Jean Dominique -- Part II (fwd)
FROM IMPUNITY NO MORE
Dominique's death provoked demonstrations and massive displays of mourning.
Eighteen thousand people attended his funeral and a ceremony at the soccer
stadium. But ten months later, the culprits have not been brought to
justice. Six men are in prison, accused of being either material killers or
accessories to the crime. But the investigation inches slowly, hampered by
the deteriorating political situation in the country and emboldened displays
of bravura by people investigators said were involved in planning and
carrying out the murder.
Bizarre incidents have complicated the murder investigation, putting in
display Haiti's penchant for drama and occultism. Last July, Jean Wilner
Lalane, a key suspect died after an orthopedist extracted bullets lodged in
his buttocks, an injury he obtained as he attempted to escape when he was
arrested. A member of a car theft ring, Lalane was said to be the contact
between both the material killers and the intellectual killers. He was
believed to have provided the getaway cars. When police asked for Lalane's
body for an autopsy, it had disappeared from the morgue. Hospital sources
said it was probably buried in a common grave, where they dispose of
unclaimed bodies. The hospital apparently buries bodies quickly since
electricity is cut off for hours during the day because of energy shortages.
The explanation is odd, since hospital staff knew Lalane was an important
suspect in the Dominique murder.
The orthopedist who operated on Lalane also disappeared, after investigators
theorized he had a darker specialty-that of getting rid of people for
criminal reasons. His friends said he is being used as a scapegoat.
Two influential lawyers, Jean Claude Nord and Gerard Georges, who are also
suspects in the case because they threatened Dominique in a radio program a
few weeks before the murder, represent the main suspect, Senator Dany
Toussaint. Georges, a tall man who prefers tailored suits and gold
bracelets, also represents the orthopedist who operated on Lalane.
Then there are the "chimères," screaming Lavalas protesters who are brought
out to challenge the opposition and are reportedly paid for their services.
They have come to scream at the judge every time he hauls in suspects for
questioning in his chambers.
Lavalas leaders claim chimères are out of control Lavalas fans. Haitian
journalists say the chimères have leaders who command their screams. Such a
leader was in the news in January. Paul Raymond, head of the Lavalas Little
Church Community, which operates out the ruins of St. Jean Bosco, the old
parish where Aristide began his career as a priest, sent shivers down the
backs of 80 Haitians journalists, clerics and politicians when he warned
chimères would kill them and turn their "blood to ink, their skin to
parchment and their skulls to inkwells," if they continued with their
Haitians took the warnings to heart, and the government was forced to haul
Raymond to court to explain the threats-his lawyer was the ubiquitous Jean
Claude Nord who also represents Toussaint and is a suspect in the crime.
During a quick visit to the church ruins in downtown Port-au-Prince,
chimères were being put in trucks and Lavalas leaders were giving final
orders to a group of cars taking protesters to a site.
Chimères can get out of hand. In the past mobs have engaged in "Pere
Lebrun," which means you kill someone by placing a burning tire on the neck
of the intended. They have burnt down opposition headquarters and staged
disorder in front of newspapers and radio stations they see as their
A "petit" Judge
Judge Gassant is a small, thin man with a quick smile. A graduate of the
National School of Magistrates in France, he is part of a new crop of judges
in Haiti who take their job seriously. Asked why he took the Dominique case,
he said he "could not refuse the offer because of his professional
integrity." But people in Haiti like to say the judge is practically
carrying a "coffin under his arm."
Between October and January, the judge worked freely if teetering with fear.
The investigation is treacherous, and Gassant who makes arrests with a group
of policemen who wear masks to avoid recognition, was not shy to express his
terror. He never expected the pressure to be so relentless, but he is
hanging on. He has opened a parallel investigation on the Lalane murder to
determine if there was gross negligence, or a direct attempt to silence a
Gassant is the third judge on the case. Two judges resigned following death
threats. Gassant took on the case for the prestige and legal challenge and
is hanging on by his fingernails. He broke down in tears one day, during a
brief interview. He takes to heart the rules and regulations of the
proceedings, which means journalists have no access to the investigation. It
is part of the "secret clause," enforced by Haiti's Napoleonic legal system.
The Dominique case documents are stashed in two big cardboard boxes which
the judge keeps at an undisclosed location. His family has left Haiti, and
he sleeps in a different house every night. He travels around town in a
number of unmarked cars with bodyguards and swat team members. The killers
loom in the darkness of Port-au-Prince, or hide among pedestrians
crisscrossing in front of cars in Haiti's notorious traffic jams. Dozens of
political killings in the last five years have occurred on clogged city
A few weeks ago, the judge thought he had a close encounter: his car was cut
off by the car of Milien Rommage, a Lavalas deputy and former number two at
the presidential palace's security force. The unit has been cited by
international observers as the place from where several political murders
were planned. Recognizing the judge's car, Rommage yelled that he could
easily spray the car with gunfire. The remarks were supposed to be in jest,
but the judge has received several death threats, and the encounter came as
he battled the Lavalas-controlled Senate, which was threatening to
investigate him because he was attempting to summon key suspect, Dany
Toussaint, who was elected Senator in the May 2000 elections.
Yvon Neptune, president of the Senate and a Toussaint supporter said the
judge's request to question Toussaint was unacceptable coming from a "petit"
judge, which translates roughly as an insignificant judge.
The driving force behind the Dominique investigation is Michele Montas, a
top journalist who never delved into Haiti's underworld until her husband's
murder forced her to look at a Haiti she did not know. "Jean was murdered
because he was going to stop a lot of people from making a lot money," she
said. She uses the radio station and whatever few connections she has in the
Aristide government to twist arms and move the case along.
Montas met Dominique when she came to work for Radio Haiti in the early
1970s. Fresh from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, where
she witnessed the 1969 anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, Dominique swept her
off her feet with his passionate politics. Married for 25 years at the time
of his death, Montas has suffered tremendously with the murder. She
considered closing the station, but with the help of Dominique's daughter
Gigi, she resumed operations a month after his death. She also swore to
solve her husband's murder. It is a dangerous mission, to boot. But she is
determined. "They killed me when they murdered my husband," she explained,
in her soft French-accented English, her eyes welling up with tears.
The Préval government gave her four bodyguards who follow her everywhere.
She still seems in shock over her ordeal. Images of her husband are
everywhere at the radio station and in her home. At Radio Haiti, a life size
portrait of a photogenic Dominique welcomes visitors. At home, his pipes and
leather cap remain where he left them.
Montas remains under intense scrutiny by those who planned and executed her
husband's murder. She sometimes gets more bodyguards. "When the trail gets
hot," she said with a nervous laugh. She has written her will but doesn't
believe the killers will come after her. Limited by the secret clauses
controlling the investigation, she only writes stories on the case when she
fears the investigation is being sidestepped. "They thought I was going to
go away because I am a woman."
In February 2001, before the Aristide presidential inauguration, for
example, Montas suspended all transmissions at Radio Haiti for three days.
The action was to protest a motion to investigate Judge Gassant by the
Lavalas-controlled senate after his third attempt to force Sen. Toussaint to
testify. "They have to understand that there won't be impunity in this
case," she added, although she is aware she will need international support
to get the case through Haiti's labyrinth-like judicial system.
Who killed Dominique?
In plot-ridden Haiti, everybody points the finger at everyone for the
Dominique murder. Threatened all his life, Dominique had no specific
warnings on the days prior to his murder.
To begin the investigation, Montas gave the prosecution a list of potential
enemies who could have had Dominique murdered. They included businessmen he
had accused of alleged corruption in his daily editorials, politicians and
former Duvalier supporters.
Initially, Lavalas strongly pushed forth the theory Dominique could have
been killed by former Duvalier followers. One name that surfaced was that of
Leopold Berlanger, an opposition figure and owner of Vision 2000, a radio
station that has also been attacked by Lavalas. Last year, Berlanger was
coordinator of the Council of National Observers, a body overseeing the May
legislative elections. Dominique was openly critical of Berlanger in one of
his last editorials, charging him with being part of a coalition "engaged in
the destruction of Lavalas." Berlanger has cooperated with the investigation
and is no longer a top suspect, according to sources with knowledge about
Instead, Haitian and foreign observers and investigators in the case have
looked for clues in a radio editorial Dominique delivered on Oct. 19, 1999,
six months before his death. The editorial was a direct attack against Dany
Toussaint, who was not a senator at the time, but was rumored to be
interested in becoming chief of police for a second time. Toussaint served
as the interim police chief in the first Aristide government, after the
military was disbanded and a new police force was being formed. At the time
Dominique was said to be preparing a series of dossiers on the corrupt
practices and drug trafficking records of several Lavalas officials,
including Toussaint, according to several accounts. Montas, however, insists
there were no dossiers. "Jean just accused people in his daily
commentaries," she said.
The October editorial was delivered during one of Haiti's most delicate
periods last year. Three months earlier, the U.S. had ended a police
training program. Several police officials favored by US trainers, and known
not to have close ties to Lavalas, had been forced to resign. The most
influential was Robert Manuel, the state secretary for public security, who
fled to exile as Lavalas officials, including Toussaint, built a cacophonous
campaign against him. "First the graffiti appeared, and he knew he had to
get out," said a police source. The editorial was given days after the
funeral of Jean Lamy, a reportedly honest army officer and advisor to the
national police, who was scheduled to take over Manuel's post. Dominique
decided to write the editorial because Toussaint accused Manuel of the
murder, and Dominique understood there was a power struggle inside the
police force, with Toussaint pulling to take over key police posts.
The independence of the police has been hailed as one of the underpinnings
of the new Haiti. All throughout Haiti's history the police and the army
were used for the capricious whims of whom ever was in power. The new police
were supposed to be above politics, but some Lavalas officials were never
happy with the US training, according to foreign observers. Dominique was
suspicious of U.S. influence but supported the idea of an independent police
force, and attacked Toussaint for attempting to carry out his power play.
"It is bad strategy," warned Dominique in the editorial. But then he said
what many have interpreted as a sign that he knew Toussaint was a tough
opponent. "If Toussaint comes after me, I will denounce him publicly and
again go into exile with my wife and children."
Toussaint is not the only suspect, and investigators believe the murder was
planned by several influential individuals. The judge is still obtaining
preliminary testimony from suspects and witnesses believed to have useful
information on the case. Some of the individuals who have been questioned by
the investigating judge include Jean Claude Nord and Gerard Georges, the two
lawyers who threatened Dominique a few days before his murder in a program
aired on Radio Liberte, a New York radio station run by former Duvalier
allies; Senator Dany Toussaint, who has responded to only one of three
subpoenas, and whose lawyer is Jean Claude Nord; Senator Jean Claude Delice,
a Lavalas member and close associate of Toussaint, whose car was seen near
the radio station in the early morning when the murder occurred; members of
Toussaint's security force; and two former military officers, Richard "Cha
Cha" Salomon and Jacques Aurélus, both close allies of Toussaint.
Six people are in jail suspected of being potential triggermen or
accessories to the crime. They have connections to local criminal gangs
operating in Port-au-Prince, according to several sources close to the
The murder was apparently planned during a series of meetings. At one of the
meetings, the intellectual authors met with the head of a prominent criminal
syndicate. Authorities are very interested in a street thug known as Ronald
Cadaver is a former member of Aristide's security detail, who allegedly runs
a protection racket in downtown Port-au-Prince. Tall, dark and in his 30s,
Cadaver is said to be a boss to several gangs with links to drug
traffickers, car thieves and other criminal rings, however, his job is
merely that of an enforcer.
Information on Cadaver's activities link him to gangs operating in the
seaport of Port-au-Prince, which is located less than a mile from the ruins
of the St. Jean Bosco church, Aristide's former parish. The territory
includes the port where boats traveling between Miami and Port-au-Prince
dock, and a dusty large central market where vendors congregate to purchase
piles of rumpled used clothing they sell around the capital.
According to sources who follow the investigation, the killers arrived at
the radio station in three cars. Two parked near the station's entrance, a
third down the street. The first informant to come forward said a white
Cherokee and a red Nissan Pathfinder, were the two vehicles used as getaway
cars. Extremely expensive in Haiti, one of the vehicles was a rental,
Two of the suspected killers are brothers who belong to the notorious Road
Nine Gang, which is known to Haitian and international sources as having a
specialty in for-hire assassinations. It normally operates downtown,
collecting extortion money from merchants, according to investigators. One
suspect goes by the name of "Tilou," although his real name is Jamely
Milien. His brother is Jean Daniel Jeudi, known as "Gime." Tilou, 23, is a
well-known hit man, according to police sources. He told the investigation
he is innocent. He has no known source of income, but when he was picked up,
police found $4,000 in his possession, and an expensive cell phone.
The third suspect in jail also allegedly works for Cadaver. He is a Haitian
who was deported from the United States, under stricter immigration laws
that send criminal non-residents back to their countries of origin. Two of
the other men in jail are policemen who have connections to influential
Lavalas members. One of the policemen, Ralph Leger, had in his possession
the white Cherokee used in the murder, according to police sources. Another
suspect in prison is said to have been a member of the security force at the
Presidential Palace, a place from where several political murders have been
carried out, according to international sources.
An alleged top lieutenant of Cadaver was murdered in daylight in late
January. Gasoline, as he was known, was apparently passing on information,
according to knowledgeable sources.
The first breaks in the investigation came when a man named Philippe
Markington decided to talk to the judge. Known around town for selling
information for a fee, Markington carried a press card and a police card as
identification. Claiming he had coincidentally found himself near the site
of the murder at 6 a.m. on April 3, the informant said he saw everything
that occurred that day.
But his information was so "sharp" according to sources close to the
investigation, that police became suspicious and jailed him as a suspicious
member of the assassination team. Police even believe he could have been an
alternative hit man. Markington allegedly came forward because he wanted the
court to intercede and release some of his friends who were in jail on an
Markington even tried to get the U.S. Embassy involved in the case. He had
developed a relationship with the U.S. Embassy's public affairs office and
met several times with PAO officer Dan Whitman. According to a document put
together by the Haitian government, Whitman said he had met with the
informant because he provided information on attacks against the opposition.
Questioned by the IAPA, however, Whitman only said he met with Markington
because he represented a civil society organization. Whitman said he did not
know if someone was trying to set him up with Markington. According to
Whitman, Markington had called him "a number of times" and he had been
authorized by his superiors to receive his visits." Whitman said that when
he found out Markington was in jail he "expressed his concern for his well
being, to him and to Haitian government officials." Whitman said he could
not "guess if he was being set up by Markington or people associated with
Markington happens to have been irreplaceable for the investigation.
Although he denies he knows anything about the case, investigators believe
he is part of the killers network used by Toussaint and others in
Port-au-Prince. Among some of the early leads Markington provided were the
license plate number for the white Cherokee used in the murder. The vehicle
led investigators to Jean Wilner Lalane, the former military man with
Lavalas connections who died after the operation on his buttocks. Lalane was
a close associate of Toussaint and a known operator in a car theft ring that
brings stolen cars from Miami by boat and sells them in Haiti and in the
Dominican Republic. Stolen cars are used to launder drug trafficking
proceeds, investigators said.
Lalane was detained in June 2000, but wounded in the buttocks when he
attempted to escape. He spent 13 days in Port-au-Prince's general hospital,
refusing treatment because he feared he would be killed to stop him from
talking. The day he chose a doctor, one of his lawyers, apparently Jean
Claude Nord, arranged for Lalane's transfer to a private hospital where Alix
Charles, an orthopedist, operated on him. Why an orthopedist operated Lalane
was never explained. But when Lalane died, the doctor panicked and called
Montas and the judge on the case. After testifying for the prosecution, he
left Haiti for an undisclosed location.
Investigators are not kind about Charles's involvement in the murder. Some
think he had done similar work in the past for the same ring. The initial
cause of Lalane's death, according to the death certificate was heart
attack. Lalane was 32-years-old at the time of his death and in apparent
good health. Later Alix Charles changed his version and told a friend,
Pierre Alix Nazon, an urologist and colleague, that Lalane died of a
pulmonary embolism. He claimed Lalane had a shattered hipbone. Police
sources said this is false. The judge is apparently ready to charge Charles
with involuntary homicide. Knowledgeable sources said Lalane apparently died
from poisoning, a favored way of killing opponents in Haiti.
As Dominique's body laid in the coffin during the funeral ceremony held at
the soccer stadium a group of Lavalas supporters approached the coffin and
danced suggestively around it, chanting anti-opposition slogans. In the heat
of the moment, one of the supporters slipped a picture of Dany Toussaint
inside the coffin. One of Dominique's nephews witnessed the incident and
pulled the photo out. The action, however, has puzzled investigators as they
have tried to understand its meaning.
To some this was a cynical display by Toussaint. Whatever the meaning, it
was a macabre gesture, considering most of Haiti is convinced Sen. Toussaint
is behind Dominique's murder. If the judge is able to bring Sen. Toussaint
before a court of justice, he will be testing the capacity of the judicial
system and possibly need a big push from Aristide himself.
Toussaint has not kept quiet on the face of attacks and charges on the
Dominique murder. He has even accused the widow, Michele Montas of planning
the murder. His lawyer Jean Claude Nord, has charged Michele Montas with
organizing the attacks against Toussaint, to thwart his chance to run in the
2006 presidential elections.
Today Toussaint is an influential and popular Lavalas leader. Accused by
U.S. Cong. Dan Gilman last April as a top drug trafficker in Haiti,
Toussaint was elected senator after spending thousands of dollars building
soccer fields in Port-au-Prince's poor neighborhoods-a gesture reminiscent
of the late Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. He received the highest
percentage of votes in the legislative elections, drawing on his popularity
among young men, who constitute the largest population sector in Haiti.
A former military officer, Toussaint became close to Aristide's political
movement in the early 1990s after claiming he had refused to carry out an
order to assassinate the former priest. In 1997, he was arrested by the
Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Washington sources said the
intelligence officials, who have enough information on Toussaint did not
pass it on in time to INS. Toussaint was released after two weeks.
Elected on a public safety platform, Toussaint promised to be tough on
crime, an ironic twist given the rumors about his alleged involvement in
drug trafficking. Toussaint's election to the Senate gives him ample power
in Haiti. For one, he has immunity on the Dominique case. Even if the judge
found enough evidence to take him before a court of law because of the
murder, the Senate is Lavalas controlled and would never vote to lift
Toussaint's immunity. Already, the Senate has circled the wagons around