Attorney says actions are “Kafkaesque”: Blundering authorities after civil servant for old murder

POSTED: 05/12/14 2:44 PM

St. Maarten – Saturday, September 7, 2002, there was a party at the Catherine Mizik Moov bar near the bridge in Sandy Ground on the French side. The party ended in a drama: somebody killed Michel Campanella, a 40-year-old unemployed man who lived on a boat in the Time Out ship yard. Now the killing has come to haunt Dexter G. Hyman. Almost twelve years after the party, he is held in extradition detention in St. Maarten at the request of the French authorities who have a 15-year prison sentence waiting for him on a charge of first degree murder. Hyman, who has been working as a messenger for the government for almost fourteen years – since November 1, 2000 –  is frustrated and angry. That is understandable, given the way the French authorities handled the case, and also given the weak evidence against him.

Attorney Geert Hatzmann told the Common Court of Justice during a hearing about his client’s extradition last week Thursday that investigators immediately considered Hyman a suspect in 2002. However, the French authorities waited almost two years – until June 14, 2004 – before they submitted a request for judicial assistance to their Dutch-side colleagues to arrest their man. Three years later, in 2007, the French posted an international arrest warrant. While Hyman was going to work in Philipsburg every day, the arrest warrant stated that he had escaped. In reality, the suspect was never arrested.

“From November 1, 2000 until this day my client has worked for the government of St. Maarten,” Hatzmann told the court. “During that time he has never been off island for a long period of time, so it would have been a piece of cake for the police to arrest him in 2004 based on the request for judicial assistance.”

Nothing happened for another two years. But then, on May 15, 2009, La Cour d’Assises in Guadeloupe sentenced Hyman in absentia to 15 years for the ill-treatment that resulted in Michel Campanella’s death.

The French judicial system took another three years before it submitted a second request for judicial assistance to the Dutch side on March 23, 2012. Hyman went to work every day, practically next to the police station, but nobody ever showed up to arrest him. In May 2012, he was involved in a traffic accident, reason for the prosecutor’s office to tip its French colleagues.

“I find it in itself queer that nothing was done for three years to arrest someone who was convicted for a crime that took a life and that his possible involvement in a traffic incident then suddenly becomes the reason to spring into action,” Hatzmann told the court. “The logic escapes me.”

There is an even more bizarre aspect: “The French chief prosecutor speaks already in March 2012 about a car accident that will take place two months later.”

 

With all this information readily available one would think that Hyman’s arrest would have been a matter of days, if not hours. But no: for the next year and a half nothing happened, Hatzmann said. Only on November 4, 2013, the vice solicitor-general Flavien Noailles asked his colleague Taco Stein per email for Hyman’s extradition. “The request to “Dear Taco” was “to catch” Dexter Hyman.”

On November 15 of last year, Stein issued the order for a provisional arrest. And still things did not move with the speed of light because it took more than two months before the police finally slapped the cuffs on Hyman. The day: Friday, January 24, 2014. On February 21, the prison released him by mistake but a week later he was picked up again. Since that time, Hyman is behind bars.

Given the time between the party at the Catherine Mizik Moov bar on that fatal Saturday in September 2002 and the request for extradition – 11.5 years – Hatzmann concludes that both the French and the Dutch-side authorities “have blundered terribly” and that there is no guarantee whatsoever that the French will handle his client’s case within a reasonable term.

The French-side Solicitor-General Noailles has declared according to Hatzmann, that the court will automatically release Hyman if it does not handle his case within a year. “Given the history of this case that is an empty promise.” Hatzmann told the court. “My client fears that he will languish for years in a cell in Guadeloupe without ever getting his trial.”

The attorney furthermore doubts that Hyman will get a new trial anyway, because the request for judicial assistance from March 23, 2012 speaks of “enforcement of sentence for first degree murder.”

However, on February 19, Noailles stated in an email that Hyman does not have to serve the 15-year sentence but that he will get a new trial. All in all, Hatzmann said in an email to this newspaper, this is a story that brings Kafka to mind – a reference to the senseless, disorienting and menacing complexity of the whole affair.

And Hatzmann had not even started about the weak evidence the court in Guadeloupe used to sentence Hyman to 15 years.

The original arrest warrant states that Hyman and two companions attacked the victim without any reason, or because they had asked for a cigarette and did not get it. They kicked him against his ribs and his head. Later the story changed: Campanella was beaten up by a group of ten Haitians because he had dared looking at the girlfriend of one of them. In this version, bar-owner Emile Lexis allegedly also took part in the beating.

The request for judicial assistance – dated March 23, 2012 – contains yet another version of the event. It says that Campanella was “stabbed” to death, while further down the same document quotes several witnesses who saw that Hyman – apparently acting alone – had “beaten” the victim to death.

Hatzmann furthermore points out that many witness statements are based on hearsay, not on what these witnesses saw themselves. Hatzmann describes the absurdity of these statements: “There is a party in a bar whereby a man is brutally killed by a number of men – not something that happens every day – but the people that are present apparently do not see anything and only hear afterwards from others that my client is one of the perpetrators. Of all people, he is the one mentioned of the three or four who possibly participated in the attack.”

Another witness, who told investigators that she had not seen the attack on Campanella, stated that Hyman “left shortly after the aggression.”

Hatzmann concludes that there are three versions of what happened – from ill-treatment by ten Haitians to a solo action by his client. There is only one incriminating statement against Hyman – obtained through an anonymous source and an inmate.

“This dossier screams doubt with capital and bold letters,” Hatzmann said. “I am convinced that not a single court within our Kingdom would have sentenced my client.”

 

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