Leta Cordes now officially a cold casePOSTED: 02/27/11 9:08 PM
Chief Prosecutor Mos takes on role of press officer
St. Maarten – Come March 9, chief Prosecutor Hans Mos will take over the role of press officer from Rienk Mud who will return to the Netherlands. Before Mos arrived in St. Maarten, his predecessor and Chief Prosecutor Taco Stein took care of all press contacts. Mos asked Mud to take over, “and to do it at least for a certain time.” That decision turned into a permanent solution, but now that Mud is leaving, Mos will take over.
The prosecutors used the meeting with the press yesterday to highlight their work methods and the conditions under which they have to do their job.
“Last year the plan of approach for the prosecutor’s office was approved. At the time we had eight people working here, and we are still with eight staff members,” Mos said. The organization will have to grow to its full strength of 19 staff, and follow the projected growth of the police force to 375 personnel. Currently, the police are operating at 55 personnel under its minimum strength.
Under these conditions, Mos and Mud said, “We simply cannot act on all demands.” By the end of this year, the prosecutor’s office is projected to have 13 or 14 employees on its payroll.
“It is hard to get people,” Mos said, indicating that, though his personnel are certainly not underpaid, pay in the private sector is better. The Dutch are still helping out, also with transferring know-how to local employees. If you look at our office now, it is mainly white, but when you look outside that is not the predominant color. In that sense, our office ought to become a mirror of the society we serve.”
Apart from staffing issues pending legislation is a main issue for the prosecutor’s office. The new penal code is awaiting approval by the parliament. Included in the new code is a section about juvenile justice and a section about special investigating methods.
“We have cross border crime that involves drugs and criminal organizations. We need legislation that enables us to fight that,” Mud said.
The work pressure at the prosecutor’s office is high “Last year we had fourteen dead people, including the hit and run in Oyster Pond,” Mos said. “We solved five or six of those cases. The last killing on the island was on October 16th.”
In spite of their best efforts, not all murder cases are solved. The David Eustace murder for instance, remains open until this day, as does the Eric Yuan Sam’s killing that took place on December 30th, 2009.
The Leta Cordes case is now officially a cold case. “It is not solved. We have put maximum effort into it, but now it goes on the shelf,” Mos said. “If there is new information, we will reopen the investigation.”
Cordes disappeared in January 2008 from her home in Dawn Beach. Initially police treated it as a missing persons case, but later it became a murder investigation. Leta’s husband Frank has been detained for the murder in 2009 for quite some time, but in the end he was released for lack of conclusive evidence.
The chief prosecutor said that the expansion of the forensics department at the police station is helping boost solution-percentages. “The department is building a fingerprint database, and we are now able to solve cases based on fingerprints,” he said. What also helps is that police officers and prosecutors get trained in crime scene management.
Due to the limited manpower, the prosecutor’s office has to choose its priorities. Murders, manslaughter-cases and armed robberies are at the top of the list. Mos said that integrity-investigations (like the vote-selling case and the Maria Buncamper-Molanus scandal), have the full attention of his office.
“But to do these investigations we need the special investigations unit, the landsrecherche. In the past St. Maarten got from the Netherlands Antilles capacity for half a full time investigator for those cases. Now we have our own unit with Ademar Doran at the head and three investigators, so that eight times as much capacity as we had in the past.”
To bring the landsrecherche up to its full operational strength, Doran needs to draw on officers that work in the police force. “And the police is working at 55 personnel below its minimum strength,” Mos said. According to Chief Commissioner De Witte some officers are working double shifts to get the work done.”
The chief prosecutor confirmed that his office needs the approval of attorney general Dick Piar to activate the landsrecherche. “We have approval to investigate the vote-selling case, but we are now waiting for investigative capacity,” he said. “There is no approval yet for the Buncamper-Molanus case, because we are still working on the preliminary investigation. We are researching the facts.”