Gregory Smith dead
November 24, 2002
After 22 years on the run, one of Guyana's most wanted men, Gregory Smith, who was charged in 1996 for the murder sixteen years earlier of historian and WPA co-founder, Dr Walter Rodney, is reported to have died.
But one of Smith's family members is claiming otherwise, despite reports from French Guiana to where Smith had fled after Rodney's assassination that he had succumbed to stomach cancer on Thursday.
Several independent sources from the French-speaking colony told Stabroek News yesterday that the former Guyana Defence Force sergeant had died at his home early on Thursday evening after a prolonged illness. These reports came from neighbours and colleagues who had worked with the man at Unifipeche, a shrimp company in French Guiana. One other person claimed to have attended Smith's wake at his home, and said that the family did not want to make the death public until other relatives from Guyana had arrived in French Guiana.
Smith had changed his name to Cyril Johnson upon fleeing Guyana.
This newspaper understands that he had cancer of the stomach and had gone to France last year for treatment, but later returned to his family in a weakened state.
One person claimed that on Thursday, at about 6:00 pm, an ambulance had been summoned to Smith's home, but the medical personnel later departed without taking the man. The person said family members were later seen in tears as word spread that Smith was dead.
Dr Walter Rodney died in a car in the vicinity of the Georgetown prison on June 13, 1980, after a walkie-talkie he was holding and which had been given to him by Smith, exploded. His brother Donald, who was sitting in the driver's seat, escaped serious injury.
In a subsequent statement Donald Rodney said that Smith, at that time an acting sergeant in the Guyana Defence Force, had given his brother the walkie-talkie, and had instructed him to test it near the perimeter of the Georgetown prison so he could observe whether the extensive metal wall would interfere with the transmission.
Gregory Smith disappeared from Guyana soon after Rodney's death, reappearing in French Guiana. In 1987 he gave telephone interviews to Hugh Croskill of Cana Radio, and to Sharief Khan, at that time a reporter with the Stabroek News. He told both interviewers that Rodney's death had been the result of an accident, although he provided no evidence of this.
He informed this newspaper that he had joined the army as a private in 1975, and that he had been sent to England by the GDF to study electronics. After building an important surveillance unit for the army, he said, he had been promoted to acting sergeant.
A charge of murder was laid against Smith when the PPP/Civic government was in office on the anniversary of Rodney's death in 1996. On October 30 of that same year, then Senior Counsel Doodnauth Singh was appointed special prosecutor to lead the case against him.
However, the government never succeeded in extraditing Smith from French Guiana to stand trial in his homeland, since there is no extradition treaty between Guyana and France.
The French Government had indicated that it would be prepared to consider returning Smith here if it was satisfied that the information on which the charge of murder had been based met the criteria required by France's judicial system. However, there was another consideration, and that was the fact that French law prohibited the extradition of persons to countries where capital punishment was in force. France had also required, therefore, an assurance from the Guyana Government that Smith would not have been executed if found guilty.