Suspected suicide in filthy jail

Her Majesty's Prison

A probe has been launched into the death of convicted murderer Cordayro Joseph, 27, who was found dead, hanging in his cell at Her Majesty’s Prison yesterday morning.

A senior prison officer told OBSERVER media that investigators suspect that he committed suicide because all of the evidence uncovered so far reveals that he was alone.

The source, who is not authorised to speak with the media, said in the early morning hours yesterday, Joseph, who went outside to shower, left his cell mate outside showering, and did not return.

At 6 a.m. when a prison officer was doing his rounds on the maximum-security block where Joseph was being held, he found the inmate hanging, and it appeared he was dead, the source said.

A doctor later confirmed the death and up to last night, there was no official press statement from the authorities on the matter.

But the prison source who spoke with OBSERVER media said the jail was immediately placed on lockdown as the authorities there awaited the arrival of the police who are the ones investigating the unnatural death.

Another source at the jail said Joseph had become rowdy at one point, but then morphed into a very reserved person.

Joseph was serving a 35-year jail sentence for the 2011 murder of Coldrick Lewis, who was gunned down on Father’s Day, June 19, at Clary’s Bar on Fort Road.

At his trial last year, he had denied the killing despite the overwhelming evidence before the court, including being found with jewellery belonging to one of the people he robbed at the bar before opening fire and killing Lewis. There was also gunshot residue on both his hands and scratches on his body, consistent with eyewitness reports that the robber/shooter ran through an area with acacia trees to hide.

The jury found him guilty, unanimously.

At the time of the incident Joseph was 20, and he had been kicked out of several schools throughout his life for varying reasons.

The judge in the case, Justice Keith Thom, ordered that his sentence must be reviewed after 20 years, and if he is not eligible for release at that time, it was to be reviewed every three years thereafter.

Justice Thom said he was concerned about the convict’s unapologetic stance and the fact he went with a loaded gun.

The judge noted that despite Joseph’s troubled childhood, a psychiatric evaluation did not find any major psychological or mental condition that impacted his judgement.

The suspected suicide of the convicted killer comes at a time when Her Majesty’s Prison is under scrutiny for its degrading and inhumane conditions, to include lack of proper food and health and dental care, lack of an adequate water supply, poor ventilation, mosquito infestation, dilapidated buildings on the compound, inadequate washroom facilities, and inadequate rehabilitative programmes and recreation for the inmates, many of whom are on remand there awaiting their committal or trial.

The minister responsible for prisons, Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin, recently promised that Antigua and Barbuda will have a new prison, with plans to commence the construction project next year.

He only said so after a U.K. court refused to extradite one of its citizens to Antigua to face a rape charge, unless the authorities here found an alternative with better conditions.

Last evening, the minister said he could not comment on the hanging because he was still waiting for an update from Superintendent of Prisons Albert Wade.