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14 Convicted, Sentenced to Hange For Bishop Murder

December 5, 1986

ST. GEORGE’S, Grenada (AP) _ Fourteen people were convicted Thursday and sentenced to hang for the slaying of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop in a coup that prompted the United States to invade this Carribean island in 1983.

Three of the 18 defendants were convicted of manslaughter, with prison sentences of up to 45 years, and one was acquitted by a jury of seven men and five women that deliberated only three hours. All the defendants pleaded innocent.

They were accused of killing Bishop, three Cabinet members and seven other people Oct. 19, 1983, during the coup. Witnesses said Bishop was among eight victims lined against a wall and cut down with machine gun fire.

Six days later, 6,000 U.S. Marines and paratroopers landed on Grenada. The Reagan administration said the invasion’s purpose was to restore order, protect Americans - including several hundred medical students - and prevent a further buildup of Cuban military advisers and weapons on the island.

The United States, already alarmed by Bishop’s Marxist leanings and warm ties with Cuba and the Soviet Union, also wanted to stop a more extreme move to the left by the radical military faction that overthrew Bishop and his New Jewel Movement.

Three of those sentenced to hang are Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard, considered the mastermind of the plot; his wife Phyllis, and Gen. Hudson Austin, the armed forces commander and coup leader.

Coard said they were convicted in a ″kangaroo court and show trial.″ His wife shouted at Judge Dennis Byron: ″The world will condemn you 3/8″

Lt. Col. Ewart Layne, who was the army officer of the day when Bishop was killed, said, ″My entire life has been dedicated to the revolution. I acted alone.″

The others sentenced to hang are Callistus Bernard, an army officer accused of giving the order to shoot Bishop; Leon Cornwall, Bishop’s ambassador to Cuba; Selwyn Strachan, minister of mobilization; and Lester Redhead, Christopher Stroude, Liam James, John Anthony Ventour, Dave Bartholomew, Ewart Layne, Colville McBarnette and Cecil Prime.

Mr. and Mrs. Coard, Austin, Cornwall, Strachan, Bernard, Redhead, Stroude, James, Ventour, Bartholomew, Layne and McBarnette were found guilty of murder on all 11 counts. Prime was found guilty of murder on 9 counts and acquitted of two.

Andy Mitchell, Vincent Joseph and Cosmos Richardson, the soldiers who did the shooting, were convicted of manslaughter. Joseph and Richardson were each sentenced to 45 years in prison and Mitchell got 30 years.

Raeburn Nelson, a former army lieutenant, was found innocent of all 11 counts of murder. He and his mother embraced emotionally outside the courthouse after the court was adjourned.

The defendants were taken to lunch before the verdict was read and were brought back into the crowded courtroom in handcuffs. The 17 men wore drab clothing, but Mrs. Coard wore a bright green dress and her hair was swept back with a green band.

As a precaution, police from four neighboring Leeward Islands nations came to Grenada on Wednesday. Top government officials from the island of St. Lucia, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Grenada asked for the help.

All the defendants professed innocence in unsworn statements given to the jury. The defendants had the choice of giving sworn statements that carry more weight under law or unsworn statements, not subject to cross-examination.

They dismissed their attorneys during the trial and represented themselves.

During the seven-month trial, prosecutor Karl Hudson-Phillips told the court a proposal to allow Coard to share power with Bishop prompted the murders.

The leadership of the New Jewel Movement, founded by Bishop before he took power in a 1979 coup, split over the proposal, Hudson-Phillips said. The army finally was sent to kill Bishop, his Education Minister Jacqueline Creft, Housing Minister Norris Bain, Foreign Minister Unison Whiteman and seven other people, the prsecutor said.

Redhead was said to have slit Bishop’s throat and cut off his ring finger. Hudson-Phillips said the bodies of the firing-squad victims were burned that night in a make-shift grave at an army camp six miles outside St. George’s.

The prosecution’s star witness was Fabien Gabriel, a soldier given immunity in exchange for his testimony.

Gabriel said he was present with six of the defendants when Bishop and the others were lined up against a wall at Fort Rupert in downtown St. George’s.

Some of the defendants insisted they were not at Fort Rupert when Bishop was killed. Others admitted being there, but said they played no part in the killings.

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