After serving nearly 26 years in jail…
“The release is a milestone in the island's effort to heal wounds from the revolution. “It's the end of one chapter, not the completion of the book, as Grenada tries to build a future by not living in the past." - Senator Chester Humphrey.
ST. GEORGE'S, Grenada – Seven men convicted of killing Grenada's leader in the 1983 coup that triggered a U.S. invasion strode out of prison yesterday — the last of 17 who had been sentenced for the crime.
The prisoners named were: Bernard Coard, Callistus Bernard, Hudson Austin, Liam James, Leon Cornwall, John Anthony Ventour, Dave Bartholomew, Ewart Layne, Colville Mc Barnett and Selwyn Strachan, who have been in prison for periods ranging from five to approximately 26 years.
Dozens of relatives cheered and clapped as former Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard and six other men emerged from the crumbling 17th century prison where they served nearly 26 years. Former co-defendants took their hands and accompanied them.
Leftist Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, four Cabinet ministers and six supporters were dragged before a firing squad and shot dead on Oct. 19, 1983, by members of their own New Jewel movement — followers of Coard who demanded more radical policies.
Six days later, thousands of U.S. troops invaded the island on orders of President Ronald Reagan, who said he sought to protect American medical students and to sever Grenada's growing ties with communist Cuba.
U.S. troops arrested the 17 defendants, and 14 were initially sentenced to death.
Their sentences were commuted to life in prison in 1991 and the London-based Privy Council, the highest court of appeal for the island, threw out those sentences in February 2007.
At their re-sentencing, a judge said the prisoners showed remorse and sentenced them to just two more years in prison.
The release is a milestone in the island's effort to heal wounds from the revolution, said Senator Chester Humphrey.
"It's the end of one chapter, not the completion of the book, as Grenada tries to build a future by not living in the past," he said.
The late Maurice Bishop (photo saved in Graphics as Maurice Bishop)
Humphrey said he expects the men to reintegrate themselves back into society.
Leon Cornwall, for example, became an ordained minister in prison and will work with the Methodist church upon his release, Rev. Tessica Hacksaw told The Associated Press.
Cornwall said the 1983 coup "was regrettable, and something that should never happen again."
Hudson Austin, one of the men who was released last year, also criticized the killings, saying, "We did not solve the differences as big men."
To this day, the remains of Maurice Bishop and 10 men killed with him have never been found.
A Trinidad Guardian release stated that the decision to free the Grenada ten came like a thief in the night in Grenada on Friday, with the announcement by the Government that Coard and his fellow prisoners would be set free from the Richmond Hill Prison, St George’s.
Coard’s Trinidadian attorney, Keith Scotland, the report added, was elated with the news. He was heading to Grenada when the Guardian caught up with him late Friday.
Although surprised at the sudden decision, Scotland said he was happy for his client, who had been ailing for a long time.
On Friday, the Minister responsible for the Advisory Committee on the Prerogative of Mercy advised the Governor General of Grenada to remit the remainder of the sentences of the ten prison inmates and thereby effect their release from prison.
The advice of the minister represented the final act in the review process provided for under Grenadian law, specifically the Prison Rules.
In the case of the prisoners referred to as the Grenada 17, imprisoned since 1983, the review of their sentences was also in keeping with a court order, arising out of the re-sentencing decision dated June 28, 2007, for their sentences to be reviewed within two years.
The review process commenced in January 2009 with the submission of reports by the prison authorities on the conduct, attitude, industry and other relevant matters, of all inmates who had served beyond four years of their sentences.
The reports were considered by the Board of Review, which also carried out interviews with the prisoners and instituted its own background checks and investigations.
A total of 42 inmates had their sentences reviewed. At the completion of its work, as is required by law, the Board of Review presented its findings and recommendations to the minister of national security who, in the exercise of his discretion, forwarded the recommendations of the Board for action by the Minister Responsible for the Advisory Committee on the accordance with the law.
On June 28, 2007, three members of the Grenada 13, were freed after more than 23 years at Her Majesty’s Prison in Richmond Hill, Grenada. Justice Francis Bell, presiding in the Grenada Supreme Court, ordered Lester Redhead, Christopher Stroude and Cecil Prime to serve 30 years’ hard labour from the time of their arrest in November 1983.
That meant they had already served the 30 years.
Hours later, they walked out of prison into the arms of waiting relatives. They were convicted for the murders of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and members of his Cabinet in a bloody coup on October 13, 1983.
It was only after the intervention of American troops, that the situation was brought under calm, and that persons were arrested and charged.