Nine charged in 2000 murder of Haitian journalist Jean Dominique
PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - A judge concluded the investigation into one of Haiti's most notorious political assassinations on Friday, accusing nine people - including several close associates of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide - of having a hand in the killing of radio journalist Jean Dominique.
Mirlande Libérus, a former senator from Aristide's political party, was indicted as the organizer of the double murder in April 2000 of Dominique, owner of Radio Haiti Inter, and a security guard, according to a summary of the judge's report made public by an Appeals Court panel on Friday.
The two victims were shot by unidentified gunmen as Dominique was driving into the radio station's offices in Port-au-Prince, according to the judges.
Evidence in the case indicated that Libérus had been given the directive by Aristide to silence the popular journalist and human rights activist, the report said, citing witnesses who testified before Judge Yvikel Dabrésil.
The judge did not indict Aristide as part of the conspiracy, apparently concluding that the evidence was insufficient.
"There is no basis - either in fact or law - for what this absurd judge did," said Ira Kurzban, a Miami-based former attorney for the Haitian government, who still represents Aristide in some matters.
"Neither Lavalas, nor any member of the party, had anything to do whatsoever in the death of Jean Dominique," he said, calling the judge's report politically motivated.
Dominique's widow, Michele Montas, welcomed news of the report, saying it was a "positive step" after many years of seeking justice.
"It's been 10 years since I gave my testimony in the case," Montas told Reuters.
Montas moved to New York after the killing and is a former spokeswoman for the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. She declined further comment, saying she has not seen a copy of the judge's report.
The judge's full report is due to be published in the coming weeks, after it has been formally accepted by the Appeals Court, according to Guyler Delva, secretary-general of the Haitian press freedom watchdog group, SOS Journalistes, who chairs a committee overseeing cases of journalists killed in Haiti.
"It's very encouraging," said Delva, a former Reuters correspondent who now runs the website Haitian-Caribbean News Network (HCNN). He said it was unclear why Aristide had not been indicted. "How could you indict Libérus for receiving the order to get rid of Dominique, and not the person who gave the order," he said.
The nine accused include Senator Libérus and Harold Severe, former deputy mayor of Port-au-Prince. The others are Annette Auguste, Franco Camille, Merité Milien, Dimsley Milien, Toussaint Mercidieu, Jeudi Jean Daniel and Markington Michel. Several of them, including Severe, were previously arrested in the case but either were released and escaped from prison.
None of the accused has so far been arrested. Some live abroad, including Libérus, who is believed to be in Miami.
Due to its political sensitivity, the case has taken years to prosecute and slipped through the hands of numerous judges, one of whom fled the country.
Seven judges in all have worked on the case over a span of nearly 14 years. If and when a trial will be held remains unclear as the case could still be appealed to the Supreme Court.
An agronomist by training, Dominique was born into Haiti's light-skinned mulatto elite, but broke ranks to become a champion of the country's poor.
The story of his life - and death - was made into an award-winning documentary, "The Agronomist," by filmmaker Jonathan Demme, director of "The Silence of the Lambs."
Dominique, wearing his trademark black leather cap, revolutionized Haitian broadcasting by addressing his audience in native Creole, rather than French, and denouncing abuses by those in power.
His scathing on-air editorials made him an enemy of Haiti's dictators, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude "Baby Doc."
Dominique later spoke out against Aristide's political party, Lavalas, accusing it of corruption and abuse of power, and was widely considered as a rival to Aristide's bid to return to power in 2001.
(Writing and additional reporting by David Adams; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Gunna Dickson)