Haiti seeks 3rd judge to oversee case of slain president
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — The newest judge tapped to oversee the investigation into the killing of President Jovenel Moïse told The Associated Press on Friday that he has not decided whether to take the case amid concerns of putting his life in danger.
Judge Chavannes Étienne said his family is pressuring him not to accept the case because they fear for his life. If he were to accept, he would become the third judge to take over the case.
It wasn’t immediately clear if Étienne had to respond by a certain date. He previously oversaw the investigation into the November 2018 massacre of an estimated dozens of people at La Saline, a seaside slum in Haiti’s capital.
Magistrate Bernard Saint-Vil, dean of the Court of First Instance in Port-au-Prince, told AP that he had chosen Étienne but declined further comment as fears grow that the ongoing rotation of judges would delay the case.
Judge Garry Orélien had been overseeing the case but recently stepped down amid corruption accusations that he denied. He also had asked for more time to investigate the July 7 assassination, but Saint-Vil denied the request.
Orélien was appointed after another judge stepped down in August citing personal reasons, a move that came after one of his assistants died under unclear circumstances.
More than 40 people have been arrested in the killing of Moïse at his private residence, including several Haitian police officers, a former senator and 18 ex Colombian soldiers, the majority of whom the Colombian government says were duped.
Two other suspects were extradited recently to the U.S.: Rodolphe Jaar, a former U.S. government informant arrested in the Dominican Republic in January and Mario Palacios, an ex-Colombian soldier detained in Jamaica in October.
Palacios’ attorney had requested an additional month to prepare his defense, and it was granted by a federal judge in Miami on Friday. The defense attorney said Palacios will plead not guilty in March. Meanwhile, a hearing for Jaar was postponed for later this month. He hasn’t entered a plea and recently obtained a new defense attorney.
Jaar and Palacios have been charged with conspiracy to commit murder or kidnapping outside the United States and with providing material support resulting in death, knowing or intending that such material support would be used to prepare for or carry out the conspiracy to kill or kidnap.
Associated Press writer Dánica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico and Gisela Solomón in Miami contributed.