‘I was never part of any death squad’
July 23, 2004
Hours after he was freed of a murder charge yesterday, funeral home co-owner Ashton King denied any involvement in the activities of an alleged death squad and said he felt that persons envious of his business success were behind his prosecution. Sitting at the dining table in his Pineapple Street, East Ruimveldt home, King told Stabroek News he felt betrayed by the political system in the country, adding that was it not for public pressure he would not have been slapped with a murder charge.
However, the businessman said he plans to pick up from where he left off and even though the nearly six months in prison has had a huge impact on his life he is thanking the Lord for keeping him alive.
King along with ex-policemen Shawn Hinds and Mark Thomas, who has since died, were charged with the January 5 murder of cattle farmer Shafeek Bacchus.
Yesterday Magistrate Adrian Thompson found that no case was made out against King and dismissed the charge against him. He will rule on the no-case submission for Hinds today.
The three were slapped with the murder charge after Bacchus’ brother, George Bacchus, who himself was murdered on June 24, said he saw them in the car from which the bullets that killed his brother emanated. George Bacchus later confessed to being an informant for a death squad and alleged that King and others were members of that squad. He had also said that he had started speaking out against the squad after it started murdering persons “willy-nilly” for money. George Bacchus had said he was the intended target of the shooters the night his brother was killed because he had been speaking out.
King yesterday told Stabroek News that on the night of Shafeek Bacchus’ murder he was at his Pineapple Street home with his wife Paula and another person. Vehemently denying the allegations levelled against him by George Bacchus, King said that he went home that evening at around 6 pm and he did not leave his home until the next morning.
According to King he knew George Bacchus from seeing him around but never had any dialogue with him. He says that Bacchus was associated with a funeral home and would usually be seen at that location on many occasions and he saw him regularly about six to eight months before the death of his brother, Shafeek. So when Bacchus went public with the murder allegation it “annoyed” him, as he could not understand why he would have wanted to do something like that. However, King is of the opinion that Bacchus fingered him because his funeral home was taking away business from other places.
“Look when George Bacchus was alive he didn’t even own a motor cycle, I have six property now tell me how Bacchus could pay me money…? Tell me how that could be true? You pick sense out of nonsense. I have a US green card and I would have never do things like that to make life harder for me...” the man lamented.
According to him he always warned about people trying to get him and he saw many instances where attempts were made, however, he could have never imagined that he would have one day faced the charge of murder for an act he never committed.
The freed accused yesterday said if the police had investigated the matter properly he would not have been charged in the first place. He pointed out that Bacchus’ story about seeing the three accused in the back seat of the car was not believable at all. “How could he have seen all three of us in that car in the night for a few seconds and recognise us? It does not make sense. In the name of Christ, you tell me how could that be possible?”
He charged that Bacchus did not want to come to court and testify resulting in him stating on TV that persons were targeting the Chief Magistrate, Juliet Holder-Allen. This led to the Chief Magistrate stopping the preliminary inquiry and sending it to another magistrate.
“You know we were made the scapegoats in this whole thing. I didn’t know Thomas, really I use to go at the Wine Bar and buy a few drinks, but I only learn he name when he get charge. I know it is because of public pressure we get charge. The police ent had to arrest me, they call me and I went to the station and I get send away on my own bail and then they call me again. I coulda never believe that I woulda get charge with that murder. But it is due to politics make we get charge, the politicians they don’t care about you. They only care about themselves...”
“I know that Bacchus did going berserk, it was a puzzle foh me, I couldn’t understand why he was saying dem things, I had sleepless nights, it was really terrible it was like a crucifixion. I never sat in a car with Shawn Hinds and Mark Thomas, never...” He added that even before he was charged with murder his business suffered because of his home being harassed.
He recalled that on one occasion there was a rumour that he had been kidnapped, and according to him this was all part of the strategy to victimise him.
King also alleged that he was being targeted because of his race, arguing that when you were of a certain ethnicity you were not allowed to progress.
King was also held for questioning in the America Street shooting and robbery and also for the robbery at the home of a Campbellville businessman. On both occasions cars from his taxi service were used. One of the persons who was charged for the America Street robbery was his driver at the time and on the other occasion King said he had rented out the vehicle that was used in the Campbellville robbery.
King yesterday alleged that the police targeted him on a number of occasions and this forced him to seek protection from persons. He stated that he got a lot of business from the troubled village of Buxton and has on more than one occasion taken his one-man band to that village. He said this was happening around 2002 at the height of the crime wave and on several occasions he was told by neighbours that police were seen behind his Cemetery Road funeral home. The rumour was that he was fetching guns for the February 23, 2002 prison escapees and would usually take them to that location.
“But I couldn’t understand why the police use to be at the back because I use to come through the front. I could remember that it had a shooting at Cuffy (Square of the Revolution) and I was not home and when I come home I hear the police went and feel the bottom of one of my vehicles to see if it did hot... At that time I couldn’t understand why they were behind me because I was not involved in anything. At that time I didn’t tek it really foh nothing because I said to myself `do nothing fear nothing’.” However, the alleged police harassment got to a point where King felt like giving up. He recalled that once when he was in Albouystown a police van stopped him and he questioned why they were searching him. King said that an officer asked when he was “‘going to stop this thing?’ So I asked he wah thing? And he said ‘stop supporting them boys in Buxton.’”
On another occasion he had sent Fabian Jessop, the nephew of his reputed wife, Debra Douglas, who is now wanted by the police for George Bacchus’ murder, in one of his vehicles and he was also harassed by the police.
“Now I realise that it was Bacchus who was feeding all kinds of information to the police. And I feel that somebody had a contract out to kill me.”
King said that while he knew Hinds - they grew up in the same village - they were never close friends and he only got to know him while they were in prison.
However, he said that Hinds had visited his funeral home on more than one occasion in the company of the now dead Axel Williams. Williams, who was gunned down last December in one of King’s vehicles, was said to be one of the key members of the death squad. According to King, Williams was a close friend since he (King) was once his employer when he operated the East End Taxi Service and even after he was no longer in his employ they remained close friends and he would visit his home and on some occasions borrow his vehicle.
“I ent know if Axel was involved in anything, I use to hear things and when I ask he, he use to say no. Now I was not there so I don’t know. But I use to tell he to watch he self and he use to tell me the same thing.” King related that after the incident with the police in Albouystown he felt that he needed protection and some help and as a result he spoke to a relative of Williams, who is a policeman. Bacchus and others also fingered this relative as a key member of the death squad.
“After he talk to the police and so, they use to visit me at home steady and I felt protected because to tell you the truth I was afraid and after then I feel safe because I use to be harassed by the police.” The man recalled that when he played his music at funeral services persons would sometimes request songs that were “not really too kind to the police, you know we use to play things like `Bad man a Buxton man’, but that is what the people use to request and we use to just play it.” He said that could also have been one of the reasons why the police were targeting him.
“If I can’t live in Guyana then I have to live somewhere else. Boy I tell God bless America, if it wasn’t foh that country I wouldn’t have what I have today. But I still thank God that I still alive and I thank God for Axel and his brother, if it was not foh them I might have been dead by now...”
His reputed wife Debra is now facing the charge of murdering George Bacchus but King could not understand why. He explained that his lawyer, Vic Puran, would sit with Douglas and explain that he (King) would be a free man and there was no case. The man said now that he is free he would have to focus on helping her.
He has no plans to close his business since he still has commitments to the bank. “I can’t just close it down just like that, but what I know is that all of this is a great lesson for me...”