UN: Haiti prison break trial to begin Tuesday

AP News
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Posted: Oct 15, 2011 7:18 PM

Fourteen police officers and prison officials in Haiti will be tried in the death of at least 11 inmates during a prison break, a United Nations representative said Saturday.

The trial is slated to begin Tuesday, said the representative, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.

The defendants face charges that range from murder and attempted murder to arson and aiding and abetting escape.

The trial stems from a prison break that took place in the southwestern coastal town of Les Cayes on Jan. 19, 2010, one week after the massive earthquake killed an estimated 300,000 people.

A riot started when some of the 400-plus prisoners tried to escape because they were terrified of aftershocks in the overcrowded prison.

Haitian police and U.N. peacekeepers from Senegal surrounded the building to prevent an exodus like one that occurred at the main penitentiary in downtown Port-au-Prince on the day of the earthquake.

Haitian police rushed the building and opened fire. U.N. police saw the bodies of 10 dead prisoners but more people are believed to have been killed and dozens more were wounded.

The investigating judge alleged that up to 22 people were killed.

Officials say it is not clear how many people were killed for various reasons.

It's not known exactly how many inmates were in the prison before the break, how many inmates escaped or how many bodies were actually recovered. Investigators say they suspect some of the bodies were secretly buried.

Prison Inspector Sylvestre Larack, one of the defendants, said police did not use lethal force but instead discovered the dead bodies. He attributed the killings to an inmate ringleader who shot dead fellow inmates before the jail break. Some police officials said inmates attacked and killed each other.

The suspected killings prompted Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont to insist that money not go to Haiti's justice reform efforts until a thorough probe was completed.

The Haitian government and the U.N. peacekeeping mission later opened a joint commission to investigate the allegations.

The defendants could face life in prison with hard labor if convicted.

Haitian justice officials could not be reached for comment Saturday.