Papa Doc's Chief Henchman Sentenced to Die for Murder, Torture

From Reuters

Luc Desyr, the Bible-toting chief henchman for Haitian dictator Francois (Papa Doc) Duvalier, was convicted of murder and torture, then immediately sentenced to death after a raucous 18-hour trial that ended before dawn Wednesday.

Wild cheers and cries of "Murderer!" and "Assassin!" erupted from the jury box and the crowded public gallery at the Palace of Justice as the verdict was announced at 4:20 a.m.

The trial was broadcast live on television and, at one point Tuesday, police armed with batons entered the courtroom to quiet unruly spectators.

Killings of Teacher, Wife

The 61-year-old Desyr, portrayed as a symbol of the evils of the 28-year Duvalier family rule, was convicted of the 1965 killings at the national palace of teacher Jean-Jacques Dessalines Ambroise and his pregnant wife, Lucette Lafontant. Ambroise was described as a militant political leftist who had organized a union of Haitian high school teachers.

At the time, Desyr was chief of security for Francois Duvalier, who died in 1971 and was succeeded by his son, Jean-Claude. The family dictatorship was toppled by a people's revolt in February.

Desyr, who according to popular legend tortured Duvalier opponents at the palace on Sunday mornings before going off to preach at a Baptist church, also was found guilty of illegally arresting and torturing Ambroise's brother Emmanuel, the prosecution's key witness.

'I Am a Christian'

The former Duvalier aide maintained his innocence throughout the trial, repeatedly proclaiming: "I am a Christian and a convinced Protestant. I am a Baptist. This is not justice."

No execution date was set, and defense lawyer Leon Dupiton said he will appeal the decision to Haiti's Supreme Court.

Death sentences are rarely carried out in Haiti, but one source with close ties to the government said: "I think they'll have to shoot him. Public clamor demands it. If any one man represents the Duvalier regime, Desyr is that man."

That theme was stressed in the trial questioning by jurors and testimony of prosecution witnesses.

A Legacy of Hunger

One juror, David Jean-Pierre, estimated that the regime murdered more than 100,000 Haitians, drove 40,000 into exile and left a legacy of 85% illiteracy, rampant hunger and unemployment.

"I know," said Desyr at one point during Jean-Pierre's litany. He said that during the regime's final years, he had wanted to save Haiti from Jean-Claude. The young Duvalier, known as Baby Doc, fired him in 1981 after hearing taped evidence of a planned coup.

Desyr, who began serving the elder Duvalier in 1957, will undergo a second trial Friday on charges of murdering and torturing members of former President Dumarsais Estime's family.

What was described as a tape recording of Estime's torture was played frequently on Haitian radio stations in the weeks after the flight of Jean-Claude Duvalier. The tape is expected to be introduced as evidence in the upcoming trial.

Wears Artificial Leg

At one point, Desyr, a diabetic who wears an artificial leg, asked permission to sit.

"The accused has asked to sit down, but the people he tortured were not allowed to lift a finger," the judge responded. "They could not sit."

However, after a 10-minute examination of his plastic limb, Desyr was given a chair. His wife was seen crying in the courtroom.

Two other men--Elois Maitre, a leader of the now-defunct Tontons Macoutes secret police, and former military officer Jean (the Grand Inquisitor) Tassy--were tried with Desyr in absentia, but no verdicts were issued. Maitre is believed in hiding in Haiti, while authorities think Tassy fled to Argentina.

Desyr tried unsuccessfully to flee Haiti on Feb. 25, when he was seized by a mob at the airport.

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