Roro Edourne and Renold Plasimond
Photo Credit: BVI Platinum News
"The boat was crowded. We say the boat was packed like sardines. You will hear they sat on the floor of the boat. You will hear the only two persons standing were the two defendants," stated Senior Crown Counsel Valston Graham as he opened the crown's case against the two men charged in connection with the boat accident that left eight Haitians dead in December 2010.
The men charged are Haitian natives, Roro Edourne and Renold Plasimond. They are jointly charged with eight counts of manslaughter and one count of smuggling migrants.
It is alleged that Edourne captained the boat carrying the illegal migrants which ran aground on a reef near Brandywine Bay and resulted in the deaths, while Plasimond was a conspirator in the smuggling of the migrants.
Plasimond is represented by Attorney-at-law Patrick Thompson and Edourne is unrepresented. Graham and Prosecutor Christlyn Benjamin are appearing for the crown.
Today, October 24 during his 45 minutes opening address to the jury, Graham gave a detailed preview of the crown's case against the men where he said the captain, Edourne left the passengers to fend for themselves when the boat capsized. He said the boat was packed like sardine and some persons onboard the boat were never to be seen again.
He said on Sunday, December 5, 2010 the boat left St. Maarten destined for the United States Virgin Islands (USVI). He said there were approximately 30 persons onboard and among them were men, women and about four children between the ages of 12 months and 12 years.
Graham said although the trip started out on December 5, jurors will hear that plans were afoot before then as payments were made in different amounts so that the service could be rendered to the passengers.
"You will also hear that at the time they set out on this journey, they had no travel documents with them, neither for the USVI nor for the BVI. You will hear that during the day of Sunday, December 5, 2010, arrangements were made for various persons to be collected in St. Maarten," he said.
The jurors heard that the passengers were collected and then taken to an unknown location in some bushes in St. Maarten, which was close to the sea.
"They were given instructions to wait for the boat. You will hear when the boat arrived, there was a captain and there was another man assisting him. Our case is that Mr. Edourne actually collected monies from passengers and we say that both defendants assisted in picking up the persons to take them to the location to await the boat. These two men were the two men onboard the boat on the night of December 5. In addition to the role on land, we say Mr. Edourne was the captain and Mr. Plasimond was his assistant. You will hear Plasimond assisted him through the journey," Graham stated.
The Prosecutor pointed out that before they embarked on the journey, the boat arrived in St. Maarten during the night and the passengers had to jump from a rock onto the boat.
"They were helped onto the boat; the boat was crowded. We say the boat was packed like sardines. You will hear they sat on the floor of the boat; you will hear the only two persons standing were the two defendants; you will hear that the trip was going smoothly, until they spotted the light overhead. That light was that of a US enforcement aircraft. You will hear when they spotted the light, the passengers were given instructions by both Edourne and Plasimond to lie low, bend down, keep your heads down; and you will hear that the passengers complied," he said.
Jurors were told that the US Coast Guard then joined in and the captain was given instructions to stop, but he did not comply.
"You will hear they showed this bright light on this boat; it was at that point that you will hear Edourne, the captain, rather than complying with the coast guard instructions to stop, he took off at high speed. You will hear his boat had no lights. The coast guard gave chase. You will hear that the boat these passengers were in collided in some rocks in the area of Nora Hazel Point; that's in Brandywine Bay, Tortola."
He added, "The boat started to take water; you will hear it subsequently capsized...Not only would you hear what occurred at Nora Hazel Point, but you will have for a few seconds to see what happened at Nora Hazel Point because the US law enforcement recorded some footage of the chase. You will have an opportunity to see for yourselves that collision to go along with what the witnesses will tell you."
Graham further pointed out, "Boat capsized, passengers in the water, they were not wearing any life jackets, couldn't swim, had children in their hands. They stayed on the boat and only after boat capsized they began to struggle for safety."
The Prosecutor said there is an old rule that a captain should go down with his ship, but this was not the case in this incident.
"...But he paid no commitment at all to that rule. In fact, you will hear after the boat hit the rock, he was the first overboard; he swam to land and he left his passengers to fend for themselves. It is our case that as captain of the vessel, he owed them a duty of care when the boat collided to at least try to rescue some. He did no such thing. Rather than staying to help his passengers, we say he found time to find a local resident in the Brandywine Bay area, borrowed a cellular phone and telephoned his associates in St. Maarten to update them on what had gone wrong," he stated.
Speaking about Plasimond, Graham said he did the opposite. "Unlike Edourne, our case is that his assistant Plasimond actually stayed behind and he did assist in the safety of some of the passengers, but make no mistake, that does not relieve him from any of his liabilities..."
The salvaged boat which was transporting the illegal migrants
Photo Credit: BVI Platinum News
Graham said some of the witnesses will testify that it was dark and they could not see the captain. However, there is one witness who knew Edourne and who spoke to him on December 5.
"Now you might say to yourself, well these persons took a risk and we say yes, they did, but we say there were about 30 persons onboard, some were retrieved from water alive and some were retrieved from the water dead, and some were never seen again," he stated.
The Prosecutor acknowledged that it's a case that is capable of invoking emotions; however, he warned jurors not to let sympathy on any part play a role in weighing the evidence.
"Do not allow these things to over shadow the oath or affirmation that you have taken. For example, do not say whether these poor people lost their lives, so I must find them guilty - not at all; or on the other hand, don't say whether poor Edourne, he is not represented and I must find him not guilty; or Plasimond did some good, so I must also find him not guilty. Your verdict should be influenced by one thing and one thing only, the evidence that comes from that box," he urged the jurors.
Meanwhile, Graham said there are two types of manslaughter - voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter, and the crown is in this case dealing solely with involuntary manslaughter. He said it was a joint enterprise.
"We say that they were acting together, but they played different roles; acting together to transport these passengers from St. Maarten to the USVI on a boat...although they played different roles, each can be held liable for the acts of the other."
The first witness to take the stand was Detective Forbes Washington.
There is an interpreter present during the trial and Justice Albert Redhead is presiding over the trial.