Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : November 3rd 2013 Contents A6
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt November 3, 2013
For almost 12 years of his life,
Owen (not his real name) lived like
a prisoner in the Witness Protection
Programme as he waited to testify
for the State in a murder trial.
He gave up his freedom, put his
life at risk, and he kept his where-
abouts a secret from his family and
Now thrown out of the pro-
gramme, Owen, an amputee, regret-
ted giving evidence in court after
the State failed to uphold its side of
the bargain while he stayed in the
Owen, 44, who was promised the
opportunity to learn a skill, has since
retained the services of attorney
Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj to pro-
ceed with legal action against the
State for failing to deliver on its word.
Maharaj is also seeking adequate
compensation for Owen, who
accepted $92,000 from the State
after he was asked to leave the pro-
Since leaving the programme,
Maharaj said his client has been in
danger, as threats have been repeat-
edly made on his life.
Maharaj is calling for Owen to be
protected by the State.
In a face-to-face interview with
the Sunday Guardian at Maharaj s
law office in San Fernando on Octo-
ber 9, Owen spoke about the trials
and tribulations he faced while in
How Owen's life changed
On the night of November 12,
2001, Owen s life changed when his
friend Junior Fredericks alias Ombi
was sprayed with bullets in Laven-
Owen was also shot five times to
the lower part of his body and was
admitted to the Port-of-Spain Gen-
For weeks, Owen remained under
police guard at the hospital as nurses
and doctors tried to save his left leg.
The leg later became infected and
was amputated, forcing Owen to
move around in a wheelchair and
use a colostomy bag to collect his
As the main witness to the mur-
der, Owen was approached by the
State to give evidence against the
three accused---Andy Brown, Brian
Barrington and Sebastien Joseph.
He complied and signed a Mem-
orandum of Understanding with the
Government to give evidence in
The State in return offered to pro-
vide Owen with a skill, adequate
compensation and protection, all of
which they did not live up to, he
Owen gave up his freedom, family
and friends expecting in return---
justice and for his life to later return
For years, the case dragged before
the court. In 2010, in a surprise twist,
the charge against all three accused
Life started going downhill
From there, Owen admitted, his
life started to go downhill.
The police protection he received
was unexpectedly taken away from
He was asked to leave the pro-
gramme. Out of the programme,
Owen started getting death threats,
which he reported at the Long-
denville Police Station.
Owen recalled that on June 28,
2013, he was taken to the Gasparillo
Police Station where he was offered
$92,000 to leave the programme,
even though he had not received any
By then, Owen was no longer
using crutches to move around. The
State had outfitted him with a
$46,000 prosthetic leg.
"They (two officials of the pro-
gramme) asked me to sign for the
money, which I rejected. I was told
that I had to leave the programme
because they (Government) could
no longer afford my upkeep. I begged
and even cried for them to keep me,
but they refused to budge."
Owen said the officials kept insist-
ing that he should not turn down
the money, since it was the highest
sum ever offered to a state witness.
Shortly after, his belongings were
dropped off at the station.
"I didn t know what to do. I was
caught between the devil and the
deep blue sea," Owen said.
For several weeks, Owen kept a
low profile at the home of friends,
until he applied for a disability
Each month he collects a $1,500
disability grant, a far cry from the
$2,800 stipend he received for his
upkeep as a state witness.
'My back was against the wall'
The State also provided its state
witnesses with health care services,
accommodation, cable television and
medical attention, which he could
not afford. "I was put in a financial
bind and eventually accepted the
$92,000 because my back was
against the wall. I had no job and
savings to fall back on. It was like
starting my life all over again. Only
this time, I was at a great disadvan-
tage with my disability."
The 12 years he served as a state
witness, Owen said, he lived in five
safe houses in central and south
The surroundings of one of the
safe houses was overgrown with
grass and infested with flies, Owen
said, while two were not properly
At times, no police protection was
Owen first took up occupancy in
Forres Park, Claxton Bay, close to
the landfill with five other state wit-
nesses who stole food stuff from
each other when they had to prepare
their daily meals.
"This brought contention among
the state witnesses. So it was nothing
new to hear them arguing and
cussing one another over food and
missing grocery items. This was part
of the culture in the programme. I
had grown accustomed to this
Owen said frustration and con-
finement only fuelled the fire.
At the safe house in Forres Park,
Owen remembered being told by a
police officer to strip naked and squat
on one leg after going out.
"Apart from feeling like a caged
animal, I was humiliated and
stripped of my dignity in the worst
way. This worried me to no end."
A sitting duck
On another occasion, the other
state witnesses ganged up against
Owen and demanded that he tote
water from a tank downstairs to their
upstairs apartment, while he hobbled
"They offered to pay me $1 for
each bucket of water I fetched. They
were just too lazy to do anything.
Instead they spent their day watching
television, idling, sleeping or eating.
Nothing productive was done, which
I had a problem with."
He said, "If I had the slightest
inclination that this was what I
would have been subjected to, I
would not have become a state wit-
ness. This has certainly left a sour
taste in my mouth."
Owen said his life was now shat-
tered and ruined. "I am disappointed.
I feel betrayed and used. I should
not have testified. I am on the run
like a wanted criminal...a fugitive. I
am not in a position to escape a
gunman. I am a sitting duck. I can t
dodge a bullet to save my life."
Owen s advice to witnesses inter-
ested in getting into the programme.
"Before you sign anything consult
a lawyer, seek advice..."
George: I cannot
answer your question
On October 19, Justice Minister
Emmanuel George when told about
Owen s plight replied, "I cannot
answer your question."
State witness thrown out of protection programme:
My life is ruined
Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj
Housing and MP
for Oropouche East
Dr Roodal Moonilal
dancers from the
Dr Roodal Moonilal
Nishana School of
Dance, light deyas
during a Divali
function hosted by
the minister in
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