Some of you may have noticed occasional mention on this blog of my having been attacked when I was living in St. Kitts. Well, the last couple days that little bit of personal history has come to my attention again.
Short version of the story (long version available on request), which I published on the front page of the paper. About 2:30 a.m., 2003, opening night of the St. Kitts Music Festival, I was alone in my house after working late at the paper. I woke up because I heard my front door swinging open. I went out to see if it was my temporary housemate, Rita, a reporter at the paper, who had gone to cover the music festival. I walked into the dark living room and there was this guy standing there holding a knife over his head. He jumped me, I screamed, he held the knife to my throat and said if I screamed again he'd kill me. So I fought him steadily for about 10 minutes and fnally succeeded, with some help from his stupidity, in immobilizing his hands (he had stuffed a scarf in my mouth and I had managed to lock my elbows while gripping the arm that held the knife. And I kept saying, "Please get out of my house." He was a young guy, but I don't think he expected quite so much of a fight (I did not expect quite so much fight in myself either, come to think of it.) from a woman. Anyway, he just suddenly up and ran out of the house and disappeared into the dark. Believing he had taken my phone I went out and woke up my neighbors, who called the police. I couldn't use my fingers because they were all cut up. And I believe he bit clean through my ear (I never did see quite what they stitched up there). Anyway, hospital, emergency room, stitches, sedative, etc., the other journalists were awesome, and it was a big to-do. (Those were the stitches that my friend Jamie Astaphan took out.) And I put the whole story on the front page of the paper the next week, including photos of my living room floor all bespattered with blood. Two other women suffered burglaries that night, but I was the only one injured.
After I got home the police took a detailed statement. It was dark and the attacker had knocked my glasses off at the start of the fight, so I couldn't tell them much about what he looked like, and they don't have sketch artists in St. Kitts. But they went off with the description. And about 3 weeks later they called me up and said they needed a DNA sample to match some stains on the shirt of someone they thought was a suspect. I gave the sample, and it was sent off to Jamaica as part of a batch. That's how they do it in the Eastern Caribbean. Everybody can't afford all that CSI stuff. Meanwhile Caroline was coming for a visit. Caroline who posts comments here sometimes. I didn't stay alone at my house at night any more. Rita went back to Nevis on weekends and I went over to my friend Margaret, an 84-year-old lady who lived in Frigate Bay and liked having company. But Caroline was arriving on a Sunday night so I planned to pick her up at the airport and taker her to my house. That morning the the Soufriere Hills volcano in Montserrat blew and sent up an immense cloud of ash, so big that flights into the Leeward Islands were cancelled for 24 hours. Caroline had to overnight in San Juan. I found out about it too late to go back to Margaret's. So now I had to spend the night alone in the house. I tried to coax the dogs in but they were wary -- what the hell was I taking such an interest in them for? I stayed up, keeping my mind distracted away from scary thoughts, reading, writing email, puttering. The last thing I did as I tidied up the kitchen was pick up the big butcher knife and carry it off to bed with me. I hadn't given this any forethought, it was a sudden inspiration. Of course I compulsively checked and rechecked all the doors. But still, it occurred to me. I hid the knife on the floor and quietly made up my mind that anybody who got as far as the door of my bedroom would leave the house in a body bag.
After I gave my blood sample for the DNA testing I didn't hear from the police for months. They had been very nice. Meanwhile I got fired from that paper (another long story) and went to manage one in Nevis. I was working production, totally unable to leave my desk, one day in January 2004 when we got word that there was a police situation at the airport. Some guy had been boarding a flight to St. Maarten and raised the suspicious of an immigration officer. The plane was taxiing down the runway when the police had it stopped. The suspect jumped out of the plane on the runway, and after a chase the police caught him. I had no one to send, I couldn't go myself, to get this fun news story. A day or two later a friend at the radio station told me that the guy had been a suspect in a violent crime, had hopped off to St. Maartin some weeks before, got deported, and then some time after his return to St. Kitts been arrested again. This time, he walked out of the jail, through downtown Basseterre, and onto a ferry to Nevis. In Nevis he stayed for several weeks until this attempt to get to St. Maarten. I was so angry at having missed the story that I didn't want to even look at it in the other paper. I only saw it about 3 weeks later, when the detective working on my case called me in to her office in St. Kitts. She told me that this plane-jumper was the guy who had attacked me, he had a signed statement, and they just needed a few minor points in my statement cleared up. She showed me his picture in the other newspaper. She read me his statement. It was full of lies. He said I attacked him and he was trying to prevent me from injuring myself with the knife. When she finished reading the statement I had this brute of a headache, just blinding. I left her office and went straight to the Director of Public Prosecutions (basically the Attorney General) and asked him what sort of sentence was the guy getting for this attack. I learned, on this day, that the suspect's name was Philmore Seaton. The DPP told me that the charge was burglary with intent because this charge would ensure the strictest sentence. I said, "I'm not looking for revenge here, but I do want the charge to reflect the fact that I walked out into my living room and found a man waiting to jump on me with a knife, who did jump on me and threatened to kill me, and who caused me to sustain injuries." Yes, yes, he promised, burglary with intent was the most appropriate. Then he said there would be a sort of hearing, not a trial, since Seaton had already agreed to a plea. Would I be available in two weeks? Sure.
A year went by. I left Nevis and moved to Sebastopol, California. I got a phone call from my friend Quentin the Beeman of Nevis. I had made him a present of my old cell phone. The police wanted me to come down for this hearing. The one that was to have been two weeks after my last visit with them a year ago? Of course I was to fly down at my expense. This I declined to do. I could have put the money together, and I was certainly in favor of the principle of seeing this thing through even though I didn't relish it. The reason why I did not, I did not explain to them.
The reason was very simple. Tony Fetherston. He was an English shipping magnate, a billionaire from East Anglia. And it was kind of big news internationally when he was shot to death in an apparent mugging just outside of his vacation house in Basseterre in January 2000.
It is weird how I kept crossing paths with this dead man. I hated my house and the neighborhood. I looked at a couple other rentals, including a small house in Fortlands. The agent who showed it to me mentioned in passing that it was Tony Fetherston's house. It was a tiny little house, I mean there are tents bigger than that, and I sort of liked him for having billions but being quite comfy with his wife in a little poky house. No one had lived in it since the murder. I didn't take the house.
There was a suspect in custody for the killing, Joseph Hazel. He had been in custody since his arrest a couple months after. When I left Nevis in May 2004, two years to the day after the day I arrived there, Hazel was still in prison awaiting trial. Four years.
Henry Browne was his defense attorney. There would be little procedural flurries. Some sort of hearing or action on the case was imminent. The case was being watched closely in England. Every time one of these hearings loomed a little squadron of British journalists would appear.
What was dragging the proceedings out was DNA. The only evidence recovered in the case was a mask that the shooter had worn, which had been cut out of a pair of trousers, I think they were maroon trousers. Police took saliva samples from this mask and sent them to Barbados and the UK. The Metropolitan Police Forensic Lab in the UK tested the samples, among others, according to the BBC:
The samples spent seven months in England and were studied by some 15 forensic scientists before they were returned.
But the government in St. Kitts could not afford to fly all these experts down for the case, and so there was protracted haggling over it, all duly reported in the paper.
The afternoon after my attack I went to the office for a few hours and then went to happy hour at X's beach bar in Frigate Bay. There was an Englishman at the bar, very pleasant, smart man, who turned out to be a journalist too. He was from the East Anglia Daily Times, and he was there for the latest non-event in the Fetherston case. Very nice man, Richard Smith. He said all sorts of nice things about how brave I was, and I was very touched.
In January of 2004 the case finally came to trial. The court agreed to allow a video feed of testimony from the DNA expert. And in April Hazel was convicted on the DNA evidence, which was the basis of the prosecution's entire case. Hazel was sentenced to hang (it is extremely unlikely that he would have been hanged as the London-based Privy Council will always reject a death sentence.)
Two weeks ago the conviction was overturned and Hazel went free. It was the first time in St. Kitts that DNA had been used to secure a conviction in a murder case. The Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal overturned the DNA evidence. Here's the text of the decision.
Well, comes Monday evening here and I'm noodling about and I take a look at the old paper in St Kitts and there in the news is a story about Philmore Seaton . Broke into a woman's house, stole some stuff from her.
Celeste 'Susie' Liburd pointed to her signature on pieces of duct tape stuck to the flashlight and the black and silver cell phone that she took out of Philmore 'Kiddie' Seaton's pocket when she caught him red-handed in Mildread's yard in the wee hours of Saturday October 22, 2005.
Liburd of West Bourne Ghaut accused Seaton of La Guerite Village in court on Monday for breaking into her house around 2:30 a.m. on the said date and stealing two gold chains costing EC$1000, a gold pendant valued EC$250 and another gold pendant costing US$250. She said the total value of the items is EC$1790.
Seaton was previously charged for two counts, housebreaking and larceny and receiving the items.
Liburd recapped the incident.
"At 11:55 p.m. I was in my house in West Bourne Street, Basseterre. I closed up my house and secured my two doors. I took off my jewelry from my neck and placed them on my dressing table. I then went to bed," she said.
She got up about 2:30 a.m. to go to the bathroom, which is situated at the back of the house in the yard. When she came back in the house, she hooked back the door and went back to bed.
"While I was in my bed sleeping, not in a very deep sleep, I felt the presence of someone in my bedroom so I jumped up. When I jumped up, I saw the accused and said ‘Boy what the frig you doing in my house!’ He then ran out the front door and then out the gate. I ran behind of him. He ran straight down West Bourne Street," she said.
Liburd said she knows the accused very well and could determine that it was Seaton in her house from the street light that was very bright.
And in his version of events the woman attacked him.
Seaton decided to take the witness stand to testify. He said he did not go in Liburd's house. He said she tried to frame him.
"On Saturday October 22, 2005 a trans dropped me off because I was on my way home from work. On my way home, Celeste came and held me up. My phone fell on the ground," Seaton said.
Seaton said Celeste's son and boyfriend came towards him in revenge from an incident that took place some time before between him and the son.
"One was coming with a pipe and one with a machete. I ran a distance without my shirt. The son said, Boy I must catch you back, I must bust you head open. I then said, I done pay you your money."
Seaton also said the mother always had it out for him and every time she sees him on the road, she threatens him.
Where this all took place is just a couple of blocks from my house. He was watching my house the night he broke into it. I wonder what happened to the positive match of my DNA, and the plea and the conviction and sentence for "burglary with intent," the most serious charge carrying the weightiest sentence. And here's another thing. Seaton was not walking around St. Kitts for three weeks after he attacked me wearing a bloody t-shirt. The police had some idea of who to go looking for, they already knew something of Seaton's MO, and of course they had his fingerprints all over my living room. But somehow this violent repeat offender, who had already skipped town after coming under police scrutiny, who got deported from St. Maarten for misconduct over there, just strolled out of jail and went off to Nevis where somebody fed him chicken for three weeks. Less than two years after he agreed to plead guilty to burglary with intent he was there stealing things out of another woman's house, the same time of night, the same claim that he was the victim. And they can't figure this out?
The Fetherston case, meanwhile, is finished. It will never be known who killed him. There was no other evidence, no other suspect, it's totally dead.
Last night I was talking to my uncle D. on the phone. My uncle D.'s nickname in Jamaica is "Satan." His nickname derives from his many years as an officer in the Jamaica Defence Force. He was at one point in charge of security for one third of the island, and retired at the rank of colonel. He lives in Florida now but was considering going back, because he has some rather nice job offers there. The thing that made him hesitate was the violence. "I am a marked man," he said. "When you arrest someone, they never forget that it was you that arrested them. You arrest all sorts of people and you can't keep straight who is who. But they don't forget." So we talked about that for a while, and I told him how Seaton was still running around St. Kitts. "If you had killed him that would not have happened," my uncle said, quite calmly and not the least bit ironically or in jest. He was absolutely serious. He has killed people, very bad people, and will talk about with perfect frankness. It gives me the willies. But we agreed that we had discovered in ourselves a powerful resistance to the idea of handing our lives over to the first asshole who just carelessly wanted it. I don't think this is a particularly praiseworthy sentiment. But it was timely in my one rather minor brush with that sort of danger. So why didn't he want to carry a gun? He always carried a gun in Jamaica; in my last two years there my father did, too, and hated it. My uncle hated it as well. "You have to think about it all the time, you have to be aware of it all the time, you can never be separated from it," he said. "I couldn't go for a swim at the beach." My uncle, like my father, is a total water rat, better on sea than on land. One day, he said, a friend got him to go to the beach. "I stood in the water up to my ankles and just watched my pile of clothes there on the sand with the gun wrapped in my pants. That's all I could do."