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|A Journalist's Murder Proves a Major
|Trial For Haiti's Democracy
|Jean Dominique Made Lots Of Enemies, and
|So Did The Investigative Judge
|Hacking to Death a Suspect
|Staff Reporter of the Wall Street Journal
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - On April 3, 2000, a killer lying in wait gunned down
broadcaster Jean Dominique on the steps of his radio station as he arrived to deliver the
7 a.m. news.
The murder of the gaunt, intense Mr. Dominique, considered to be Haiti's most important
journalist, was like a kick to the nation's stomach. Three days of official mourning were
ordered. The columns of Haiti's wedding-cake presidential palace were draped with black
crepe. Sixteen thousand people crammed the city's soccer stadium to attend the funeral. At
the service, then-President Rene Preval, a close friend of the 69-year-old slain newsman,
|Solving the murder became a key test for Haiti's embattled
democracy. Since U.S. troops invaded to oust a brutal military regime in 1994
international human-rights groups have blasted the island nation for backsliding into
lawless. In a speech to legislators, President Preval warned: If you don't "do
everything in your power to find justice for Jean Dominique, then your own corpses will be
found on the road to impunity."
The case has since taken many
a bizarre turn. So far, the only corpses to be found belonged to two suspects whom
investigators had hope could lead them to the mastermind. Two successive judges have
themselves been hounded by death threats, as their search led them to the doorstep of one
of Haiti's most powerful politicians. It's a strange, poisonous atmosphere," says
Camille Lebanc, a
In Haiti, as in many former French colonies, criminal inquiries are handled by an
investigative judge, who functions as a cross between prosecutor and grand jury. Despite
the lofty title, such officials receive a meager salary - typically less than $400 a month
- and they have little real power. In the aftermath of the Dominique murder, President
Preval earmarked a few thousand dollars from a presidential discretionary fund to
supplement the judge's security unit and pay for transportation.
The first judge assigned to the case, Jean Senat Fleury, had no shortage of suspects.
Mr. Dominique, a pop-eyed man with the sharp features of a bird of prey, had been an
equal-opportunity critic of the ruling class. Born into the country's light-skinned,
French-speaking elite, Mr. Dominique was one of few educated Haitians able to cross the
abyss and engage the mass of the country's black, Creole-speaking people. The power of his
microphone had given him an extraordinary role in the country's search for democracy, and
he used it liberally to fire staccato bursts of tart-tongued editorial commentary. For his
pains, Mr. Dominique had been twice forced into exile, the first time under the
dictatorship of Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier and then under the military
regime which in 1991 overthrew President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The front of Dominique's
radio station, Haiti-Inter, pockmarked with bullet holes, had been shot up six times.
|"There could be a thousand reasons for his death, but
they boil down to one thing - he stood in the way of powerful and dangerous people,"
says Patrick Elie, a former senior security official under Mr. Aristide.
In the months
before his death, Mr. Dominique took aim at targets ranging from a local pharmaceutical
firm whose cough syrup was blamed for the death of 80 children to the country's elections
board, which he said had plans to sabotage upcoming polls.
|It wasn't long before Judge Fleury turned his attention to a powerful
member of President Preval's own populist Lavalas Family party, Dany Toussaint. Dapper and
charismatic, Mr. Aristide's personal bodyguard and the chief of Haiti's police. During his
successful run for the senate two years ago, Mr. Toussaint received more votes than any
other aspiring legislator.
It wasn't long before Judge Fleury turned his attention to a powerful member of
President Preval's own populist Lavalas Family party, Dany Toussaint. Dapper and
charismatic, Mr. Aristide's personal bodyguard and the chief of Haiti's police. During his
successful run for senate two years ago, Mr. Toussaint received more votes than any other
|Though both were part of the same populist political
movement, Mr. Toussaint had also clashed in the past with the journalist. Six months
before his death, Mr. Dominique, in a radio editorial, had charged that Mr. Toussaint was
trying to strong-arm him into joining a slanderous media campaign against two high-ranking
police officials who were Mr. Toussaint's rivals.
"If Dany Toussaint takes other
actions against me or against the radio station, and if I survive, I will denounce him,
shut the door, and go into exile with my wife and children," he said on air.
|In the photo, right, the man leaning
over and touching the body of Dominique during his funeral mass is Rene Preval.
incident at Dominique's funeral seemed to offer an ugly punctuation mark to the feud: A
group of chimeres, thugs-for-hire from the city's worst slums, dropped a pocket-sized
election photograph of Mr. Toussaint into the journalist's open casket.
Ten days after the murder,
Judge Fleury ordered the arrest of an alleged triggerman. According to Inter-American
Press Association, a trade group that commissioned a report on the case, the man was a
member of the notorious Road Nine Gang, which operates in downtown Port-au-Prince,
|collecting extortion money from merchants. Several other arrests
In July 2000, Judge Fleury called Sen. Toussaint to his chambers to testify. The
senator compiled, but showed up with a group of supporters who hurled insults at the judge
outside the courthouse. Judge Fleury received death threats, and soon resigned, say people
close to the case.
He was replaced in September of that year by Claudy Gassant. A silver of a man who
barely fills out a business suit, Judge Gassant is one of a new generation of Haitian
jurists who reformers hope will remake the notoriously corrupt Haitian justice system. A
specialist in criminology, Mr. Gassant studied law in France. After his return to Haiti,
he was picked as a promising young lawyer and returned to special magistrate's school in
Judge Gassant declined to give details about the investigation, citing confidentiality
laws. But a report published last April by Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, an
independent group that promotes press freedom around the world, pieces together a series
of apparent breakthroughs.
Shortly after the
murder, investigators had obtained detailed information about the stolen vehicles used by
the killer and his accomplices, according to the report. The vehicles led to Jean-Wilner
Lalanne, who purportedly worked for a network that handled stolen cars.
When police went to
pick him up, they shot Mr. Lalanne in the buttocks and thigh, wounding him slightly,
according to the IAPA report, published in January 2001. During surgery to mend his thigh
bone a few days later, Mr. Lalanne suddenly died. The surgeon variously cited a heart
attack and a pulmonary embolism as the cause of death, according to Reporters Without
But Judge Gassant later became suspicious. He discovered that the surgeon was a close
friend of an associate of Mr. Toussaint, according to Reporters Without Borders. He
ordered an autopsy, but the body couldn't be located. Judge Gassant issued a warrant for
the arrest of the Toussaint associate, and began investigating the doctor for possible
In November, another suspect was picked up by police in the provincial town of Leogane.
Judge Gassant hurried over to take custody of the prisoner. But the local police chief
handed the prisoner over to a mob outside instead. The crowd killed him before his eyes,
he says. "I saw the people cut him into pieces with their machetes," says the
judge. He fled in his car back to the capital. The judge ordered the local police chief
arrested, but the police official was soon released from jail, according to Judge Gassant.
|In the photo, left, Judge Gassant in
his chambers. And the person in the photo, right, is U.S. Senator Mike DeWine.
Nevertheless, Judge Gassant kept on the case. Last year, he questioned Sen. Toussaint
seven times. By this time, Sen. Toussaint was attracting unfavorable attention elsewhere.
In a Dec. 20 letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell, Sen. Mike DeWine, a member
of the Senate Intelligence Committee and Rep. Porter Goss, chairman of the House
|Intelligence Committee, wrote that Mr. Toussaint was one of two Haitian
senators who "have been credibly linked by a number of U.S. government agencies to
narcotics trafficking in Haiti."
Mr. Toussaint is also on a U.S. State Department list of Haitians "credibly
alleged" to have committed "extra-judicial and political murders" in Haiti.
That effectively bars him from entering the U.S. According to the State Department, Mr.
Toussaint is a suspect in the death of a well-known lawyer and Aristide critic who was
gunned down in broad daylight on a busy Port-au-Prince street.
Mr. Toussaint, who also runs a security firm in Haiti, didn't respond to interview
requests, including one hand- delivered to him on the floor of Haiti's Senate. In the
past, however, Mr. Toussaint has said the accusations against him are part of a right-wing
U.S. plot to discredit Mr. Aristide and his Lavalas Family Party. The Haitian government
declined to comment on the accusations against Toussaint.
As the judge centered his attention on Mr. Toussaint, not a week went by without
anonymous death threats, he says. "I received phone calls reminding me that I was not
immortal," says Judge Gassant.
On one occasion, a Lavalas Family deputy in a car full of armed men blocked the judge's
vehicle on the street. The lawmaker told the judge that if he continued in the direction
he was going, he would kill him. Judge Gassant says he took it as a threat about his
investigation, not a commentary on his driving. "He had an Uzi in his hand," he
recalls. On another occasion, Judge Gassant says, a car full of policemen bumped into his
car by the National Palace and aimed their automatic riffles at him menacingly.
|In February, Mr. Aristide, a former Catholic priest, took
office again after an overwhelming electoral victory. Within a few months, according to
Judge Gassant, he stopped receiving money for office expenses and gasoline. Because they
weren't paid, some of his bodyguards stopped showing up, he adds. A presidential spokesman
says Mr. Aristide "is making every effort to cast the light of justice on the
Dominique case," he says.
In May, Judge Gassant formally accused Sen.
Toussaint of involvement in Mr. Dominique's murder. Since then, Mr. Toussaint, making use
of the immunity he enjoys as a Senator, has refused to give further testimony to Judge
Gassant, who has sent a request to the Senate asking for it to lift Mr. Toussaint's
|But only three of the Senate's 19 voting members, all of whom
are members of Mr. Aristide's ruling Lavalas Family party, have publicly favored lifting
Mr. Toussaint's immunity. One of the three, Sen. Pierre Prince (in photo, right), says he
has been threatened by Mr. Toussaint. He said he had his own connections with the Ministry
of Justice and would use them to pursue me so I couldn't open my mouth about the Dominique
investigation," says Mr. Prince.
Mr. Toussaint hasn't been shy about his defiance of Judge Gassant. "With or
without immunity, whether [the judge] comes back or not, he won't
|ever hear [the testimony of] Dany Toussaint again," Mr. Toussaint
said in an interview with Port-au-Prince's Radio Caraibe recently. Mr. Toussaint's Lawyer
Rigaud Duplan, says his client is a victim of a political conspiracy and calls Judge
Gassant a publicity hound.
On Jan. 4, Judge Gassant's mandate ended. Soon after, a supervising judge took the keys
to his office. The fate of the Dominique investigation rests now with Mr. Aristide, who
hasn't reappointed Judge Gassant. Guy Paul, the culture and communications minister, says
Mr. Aristide wants to see justice done but doesn't know if or when the president will
renew the judge's term.
Last week a superior judge appointed another investigative judge to the case. But
Haiti's top prosecutor says it was an interim appointment to keep the case going until Mr.
Aristide makes a final decision on Judge Gassant's fate. The appointment outraged Mr.
Dominique's widow, who has been leading the fight to bring her husband's killers to
justice. "Very few judges would have the courage and the ability to bring the case as
far as Gassant has brought it," she says. "It's a delaying tactic," Now
living in Florida, Judge Gassant says he probably will seek political asylum in the U.S.
Montas-Dominique keeps Mr. Dominique's case - and even his voice - alive at Radio
Haiti-Inter, where for three decades she broadcast the morning news with him. " At
Radio Haiti it is 7 a.m. and I say good morning all," booms out the raspy voice of
the late Dominique, captured on tape, and replayed every morning on Haitian airways.
Jean," replies his widow, live, sitting near a glass bowl full of spent bullets
collected from past attacks on the radio station. "Today is the 641st day that we
have been demanding justice for Jean Dominique, assassinated at this radio station,"
she says, before reading the day's news.
*Wehaitians.com's notes: The above news
article-column, which is of the Wall Street Journal, was published on January 29, 2002.
Photographs also forming the contents of the news article-column were only those of
the brutally assassinated Jean Dominique and Judge Claudy Gassant. Since the news
article-column is so rich in information we added the other photographs, which are of HNP,
to help readers visualize the problems that Mr. Gassant, for example, had experienced
during his tenure as the investigative judge in Mr. Dominique murder case.
|Wehaitians.com, the scholarly journal of
democracy and human rights