Originally: Ex-paramilitary Leader Acquitted in Haiti
A jury acquitted former paramilitary leader Louis-Jodel Chamblain on Tuesday after a secretive trial that began in the middle of the night, causing outrage among human rights groups who blamed the country’s U.S.-backed government.
Chamblain and co-defendant Jackson Joanis were acquitted just after dawn in the murder of Antoine Izmery, a former justice minister and financier of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, according to Stanley Gaston, an attorney for Chamblain.
Eight witnesses were called by the prosecution, but only one showed up, saying he knew nothing about the case, according to Viles Alizar, with the National Coalition for Haitian Rights. For the defense, two showed up, but offered few details of the case, he said.
“It is really terrible,” Alizar said of the acquittal.
Jury selection began late Monday morning and journalists were told the day would likely be devoted to choosing 12 jurors out of a pool of more than 200.
Although acquitted of murder in the Izmery case, Chamblain was remanded to jail to face another trial in the killings of several people in a pro-Aristide stronghold of northern Gonaives in 1994. Joanis, a former police chief in Port-au-Prince, was also remanded to face murder charges in the killing of Rev. Jean-Marie Vincent, a pro-Aristide priest who was shot and killed after leaving his office August 19, 1994.
It could be another month before the pair’s next trial, Gaston said.
Chamblain was a co-leader of the paramilitary Front for the Advancement and Progress of the Haitian People, a group that was blamed for the killings of some 3,000 people from 1991 to 1994, during the regime that followed Aristide’s first ouster in 1991.
When U.S. troops came to the country in 1994 to restore Aristide, Chamblain fled to the neighboring Dominican Republic. In 1995, he was convicted in absentia and given two life sentences for his alleged role in the 1993 assassination of Izmery and the 1994 slaughter of scores of Aristide supporters in Gonaives.
Haitian law provides that people judged in their absence have a right to a new trial if they return. After Chamblain’s surrender, Bernard Gousse — the interim Justice Minister under the U.S.-backed government — said it was possible Chamblain could be pardoned “for his great services to the nation,” noting what he had done to oust Aristide.
Human rights groups have criticized Haiti’s U.S.-backed interim government for forming alliances with people like Chamblain while it arrests Aristide officials and supporters.
Chamblain led a bands of rebels — some of whom were in the army that Aristide disbanded after he was overthrown in a coup in 1991 — during a bloody revolt that began February 5 in the northern city of Gonaives. After a three-week rebellion, Aristide was pushed from power February 29.
“For the defense, this has been a great success,” said Gaston, Chamblain’s attorney.
Chamblain claims Aristide ordered his henchmen to kill his pregnant wife in 1991 and told The Associated Press during the revolt that he would do the same to Aristide given the chance.
Brian Concannon, director of the U.S.-based human rights group Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, said the trial was always problematic because Haitian authorities only allotted five days for it to take place, indicating the outcome was already decided.
The judge who previously convicted Chamblain — Napela Saintil — said he was beaten shortly after his ruling by a man who claimed to be acting for Chamblain.