PORT-AU-PRINCE – Haitian authorities have secured armed guards to bolster security for court personnel as they prepare to announce the judge who will oversee proceedings involving the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, a judicial official said Thursday.
Magistrate Bernard Saint-Vil, who is dean of the Court of First Instance in Port-au-Prince, said some judges he recently contacted about the case had told him they were worried about their safety.
He said he is not obligated to take such concerns into consideration as he decides who will be assigned the case, saying that “the first characteristic of a magistrate is courage, because a judge is called upon to make decisions.”
But Saint-Vil added that officials recognize additional security measures are needed since some judicial officials have already gone into hiding amid death threats. Court clerks have reported receiving threatening demands that they revise names and other details in reports on the July 7 attack that killed Moïse and seriously wounded his wife.
“We demanded that these means be available because even before choosing the judge, we must check that everything is in place,” Saint-Vil said after meeting privately with several judges.
Saint-Vil did not say whether any judges had refused to take on the Moïse case.
The boost in security that he requested comes amid concerns over the wellbeing of suspects in the case who have been transferred from police holding cells to a prison where conditions have been likened to torture by the United Nations and where thousands of inmates remain held for years without so much as a court hearing, let alone a trial.
“The conditions of detention are generally appalling,” defense attorney Samuel Madistin told The Associated Press. “I hope everything will be done to allow justice to do its job.”
Madistin represents two of the more than 40 suspects detained in the assassination case. He said that he had not been allowed to meet with his clients and that one one of them, Reynaldo Corvington, is diabetic and has high blood pressure.
“There are judges who have refused to take the case. Pre-trial detention is likely to be prolonged,” Madistin said.
Similar concerns have come from human rights activists as well as Colombia’s government, which is worried about the health of 18 former Colombian soldiers arrested in the case. Colombia has said they have limited access to water and some are exhausted and have lost weight. It says one was limping and another couldn’t stand without help from a colleague.
Colombia’s government also has said the majority of former soldiers were duped into their participation.
U.S. and Haitian authorities continue to investigate the assassination as new details keep emerging.
Attorneys for Antonio Intriago, the owner of a small Miami-based private security company that authorities say hired the former Colombian soldiers for the mission, said he is innocent and the victim of what they called “an elaborate scheme.”
In a statement Wednesday, the lawyers said Intriago, of CTU Security, was led to believe that he was helping with a redevelopment and humanitarian project in Haiti's southern coastal city of Jacmel. They said that prior to Moïse being killed, Intriago was told that security had a “change in direction” and was being requested to accompany a judge and Haitian police to serve the president with an arrest warrant.
“At the time of President Moïse’s murder, Mr. Intriago thought that his unarmed security contractors were still awaiting official security and firearms permits from the Haitian police,” his attorneys said. “Mr. Intriago was not in any way involved in the plotting to or killing of President Moïse.”
The lawyers said the security contractors did not kill Moïse and were told their role was to guard officials while police carried out the arrest warrant.
“When they entered the presidential residence, they found the president deceased, his wife wounded and the house ransacked. It is our belief that the president’s own bodyguards betrayed him," the attorneys said.
None of the president’s security detail was injured in the attack, and at least a dozen police officers have been arrested while several top security officials remain detained.
Intriago’s attorneys also provided documents alleging that Wendelle Coq Thélot, a former Haitian Supreme Court judge, was involved in the plan to supposedly arrest Moïse. A person alleging to be Thélot wrote in an Aug. 1 tweet: “I firmly denounce the political persecutions of which I am the object at this time."
Police have issued arrest warrants for Thélot and others including a former judicial official and an ex-Haitian senator.
Associated Press writer Evens Sanon reported this story in Port-au-Prince and AP writer Danica Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico. AP writer Gisela Salomón in Miami contributed to this report.