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…family of Isaiah and Joel Henry says instead of getting justice they are being punished
By Lisa Hamilton
September 6, 2021, will mark one year since the mutilated bodies of Isaiah and Joel Henry were found at Cotton Tree backdam, West Coast Berbice. It was a double murder that rocked the nation, stirring up emotions and discussions about race relations in the country.
September 6, 2021, will also mark one year since the relatives and friends of the two teenage cousins have been pressing authorities for justice, something that has not yet been realised. In fact, in an interview with the Village Voice News, relatives of the boys, Gladston and Patricia Henry, said that their families feel as if they are being punished by authorities for an injustice done to them.
“One year on to now and none of them ain’t call us and tell us nothing. Nothing. The killer walks free,” said Isaiah’s mother, Patricia Henry. “Since Isaiah died they never called us, we does got to be the ones calling them and if they please to answer, they answer…they treat us as if we are the criminals. It’s so the police is going on towards we who lose. We who lose.”
The mutilated bodies of Joel and Isaiah Henry were discovered Sunday afternoon on September 6, 2020, one day after the boys went missing. The teens were severely chopped, their throats slit and an “X” engraved on one of their heads. After the bodies were found, protests broke out in West Coast Berbice. When roadblocks were cleared in one area, more were set up in another. The Guyana Police Force (GPF) could not handle the uproar and required assistance from the Guyana Defence Force (GDF). Protesters were fired at with rubber bullets and teargas was released to disperse the crowd.
The initial report from Commissioner of Police (ag) Nigel Hoppie was that seven persons were in custody in connection with the double murder. Meanwhile, Crime Chief Wendell Blanhum said that among those in custody was the owner of a coconut estate, his son, three of his staff and two coconut vendors. Blanhum brushed aside a question on whether or not the murder of the teenage boys were racially motivated, noting that there was no evidence to suggest such.
The post mortem examination of the two boys was done on September 9, 2020. Speaking with media outside the Memorial Gardens in the La Repentir Cemetery, where the post-mortems were conducted, Attorney-at-Law, Nigel Hughes described the particulars as ‘pretty nasty’.
Joel received 18 wounds across his body, seven to eight chops to the head, and defensive wounds in both palms from a sharp object. It was concluded from those injuries, the 19-year-old fell to the ground, then he received a chop to his back that severed his spine. That chop was 14 inches x 3 and 6 inches deep. There was also evidence that he bit his tongue, and his throat slit.
In relation to Isaiah, the 16-year-old’s spine was also severed. His wound was 14 inches long, 4 inches wide and 6 inches deep. Isaiah received several chops to his head, and his throat too was slit, almost to sever his head from his neck.
The grief of their relatives remains unimaginable, while the nation felt the murders to its core. “This hurts me a lot. I am grieved, I am weak, I am sad,” said Gail Johnson in a weeping tone — the mother of Joel Henry. Many organisations and prominent members of society came out in condemnation of the brutal act and called for justice. Hundreds also took part in protests on the West Coast of Demerara, in Georgetown, Linden and elsewhere. Then, in the thick of it all, on September 9, 17-year-old Haresh Singh of Number 3 Village, West Coast Berbice – believed to be a relative of one of the suspects held for the murder of the teens – was found dead aback No.3 Village. The Pathologist found the cause of death to be brain haemorrhage and blunt trauma to the head, compounded by compression injuries to the neck.
Needless to say, racial tensions in Guyana rose up several notches. The Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) noted that it was “deeply concerned” about what was taking place while the GPF said in a statement: “The Force wishes to go on record to say that it will pursue the investigation of Haresh Singh with the same intensity it did for Joel and Isaiah Henry and will most certainly bring the perpetrators to justice.”
GET TO THE BOTTOM OF IT
As protests continued, President Irfaan Ali said in a statement that his Government intends to seek international assistance to help solve the massacre of the three boys. “Fellow Guyanese, we have to get to the bottom of this and whatever support is needed, I will reach towards that support,” the President said. His announcement came on the heels of calls by the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) and attorney Hughes for international forensic assistance to find the killers. Hughes had shared his opinion that the GPF lacks the capability to conduct the kind of investigation required.
On September 13 Joel and Isaiah were laid to rest and Haresh was laid to rest on September 23.
At the end of September, a five-member team of investigators from the Regional Security System (RSS) arrived in Guyana to assist the GPF with investigations into the three high-profile murders. The team departed Guyana after a one-week visit.
The report received at the end of October recommended that the GPF do additional work to solve the murders, noting the Force was “well-poised and competent” to complete the investigations.
Meanwhile, DNA samples sent to St. Lucia had returned to Guyana and did not match any of the suspects the police previously held for questioning for the double murder. Pressure began to mount on the GPF to solve the murders. Alliance For Change (AFC) Leader, Khemraj Ramjattan told the newspaper in November that if the GPF does not solve the murders they would send a message to criminal minds across Guyana that the evasion of consequence for such acts is very possible and, to law-abiding citizens, that the GPF itself is unreliable.
That same month, faced with no major leads in the investigation, the GPF offered a $3million reward to any person or persons with information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators. Believing that more work needed to be done, the GHRA then brought in the Director of the Argentine Team of Forensic Anthropology (EAAF), Dr. Fondebrider, who travelled to the country on December 12, 2020.
Dr. Fondebrider was able to meet with officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Commissioner Hoppie and the Crime Chief. He presented the Crime Chief with a list outlining some 20 documents he would need to complete his work but, the GHRA said that the meeting turned out to be only a formality.
The forensic expert said, too, that the response to his request for the documents was less than favourable and did not meet the urgency he hoped for. The Forensic Expert left the country on December 16, 2020, without achieving the assessment he came to do. “I need documents. I need reports from the crime scene, from the autopsy, the complimentary analysis and I don’t have it…they said ‘well, we’ll discuss’. They didn’t give me a date or any kind of clear information about this data I’m requesting. I told them I am a scientist, I am not about politics,” Dr. Fondebrider told the media following a public presentation he made at the Brickdam Cathedral.
A TERRIBLE TURN
That same night, the brother of the late Joel Henry, Colwyn Henry and his mother, Gail Johnson, were arrested after the family was stopped by the police and Henry was unable to produce his driver’s license which he had left at home.
Following his arrest, Henry was assaulted by six police officers and his mother was scurried to the hospital, reportedly fainting from the ordeal. Then, in January 2021, in the face of mixed public reactions, three men were charged and remanded to prison for the murder of Isaiah and Joel Henry. It was reported that 20-year-old Akash ‘Monkey’ Singh confessed to the crime incriminating two other men — 34-year-old Anil Sancharra aka ‘Dan Pole’ and 30-year-old, Vinod ‘Magga’.
While at the Court, Sancharra and Gopaul were heard pleading innocence. Gopaul, in particular, claimed that he had never crossed the Berbice Bridge to Cotton Tree and had lived in Black Bush Polder all his life. The men were deemed as “junkies” by the relatives of the teens as many doubted their ability to commit the crime and called on the police to find the “mastermind” behind it.
That month too, relatives and friends of Isaiah and Joel picketed the Office of the President and the Criminal Investigation Department headquarters demanding justice for the teens who were slaughtered over five months at the time.
In March 2021, Police said that they would be calling 27 witnesses in a Preliminary Inquiry (PI) commencing May to confirm that there is sufficient evidence against the men. Then, in a turn of events, in June, Gladston Henry Jnr – brother of Isaiah – as well as 29-year-old Philip Anderson, 27-year-old Joel Gittins and 21-year-old Charles Scott were arrested and charged with the murder of Haresh Singh. The charges were instituted upon the legal advice received from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
Several of the relatives of the boys came forward as alibi witnesses to vouch for the whereabouts of Gladston Jnr on the day Haresh was killed and six of the witnesses were arrested by the police on the allegation that they attempted to pervert the course of justice. The women — Tiffany Campbell, Alona Bacchus, Patricia Henry, Bibi Shaheman, Clarett Kurtizious and Amanda Wickham — were placed on $100,000 bail. Since then, they have had to report to the police station weekly.
Then in July, Magistrate Peter Hugh discharged the case against Sancharra and Gopaul for the murder of Isaiah. But, about a month later, in August, the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Shalimar Ali-Hack, S.C, discontinued the murder charge against the duo and laid a new joint murder charge against them insisting that there is sufficient evidence against the men.
WHAT NOW? WHAT MORE?
The six women released on bail are still reporting to the police station weekly. According to Patricia Henry, the financial burden this has caused her relatives is significant. “My big sister is 67, she ain’t able go every week. We calling them to ask them if the lady can stop going and go one time a month, them ain’t answering, they ain’t saying nothing to you. Every Wednesday you got to go to the station and nobody don’t tell us ‘well you don’t have to go any more’ or what they’re doing or anything,” Mrs. Henry said. Every Wednesday, the family must find approximately $2,000 for transportation to visit the station. However, added to this, every day a member or members of the family visit the New Amsterdam Prison to take food to Gladston Jnr. The family can visit Gladston Jnr. twice weekly to speak with him but take food to him daily.
“Every single day we carry food for him, every day,” Mrs. Henry said. “Every day we pay $1,800 to go there and then you got to buy water, you got to buy everything. It comes up to about $5,000 or $6,000 a day we got to spend, every single day. We go on weekends too.”
She said that she feels as if she has not had a chance to mourn the death of her son before her next son was thrown in prison.
Meanwhile, father of Gladston Jnr. and the late Isaiah Henry, Gladston Henry spoke with the Village Voice News on Friday while he was out picking bora. He, too, spoke to the financial challenges his family and relatives now face even one year after the murder of the two teens. “[At the prison] when you carry something there you have to throw everything in one. If you carry biscuits for them guys you have to throw it in the food. Everything in one, like when you’re feeding a dog,” he said. “I don’t know how they arrived to my son killing Haresh Singh.”
He said that as things progressed regarding the investigations, instead of getting better and closer to justice they seem to have gotten worse. He also lamented that the Argentine Forensic team was not permitted the best opportunity to attempt to solve the case.
“At first I was thinking about justice for Isaiah and Joel, but as it go further down the whole scenario changed and became worse and it’s telling on us physically, spiritually, financially and mentally. And, given the fact that we haven’t gotten any closer yet with justice for Isaiah and Joel, it has been very hard for us here,” he said.
“This month here, knowing that it was coming to be one year, it was so sad, tears ran down from my eyes, but I have to be strong for my family.”
Mrs. Henry’s message to those in authority is that they should release her son from prison because his family remains obstinate about his innocence. She said that the real killers of Isaiah and Joel are still in society and the police need to find them.