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The Grenada 17 are seventeen political, military and civilian figures who were convicted of various crimes associated with the overthrow of the Maurice Bishop government of Grenada in 1983 and the subsequent murder of Bishop.
In October 1983, various officials of the people's revolutionary government (PRG) of Grenada under the leadership of Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard deposed and put under house arrest Prime Minister Maurice Bishop. Large public demonstrations followed all over the country. On 19 October 1983, a large demonstration at the Prime Minister's residence led to Bishop being freed. Bishop then went with a large group to army headquarters at Fort Rupert. Later in the day, an army unit arrived from Fort Frederick and a large number of civilians at the fort subsequently died.
After the fighting, eight persons were lined up facing a courtyard wall at the fort. They were subsequently killed. The dead consisted of:
- Prime Minister Maurice Bishop
- Foreign Minister Unison Whiteman
- Minister of Housing Norris Bain
- President of the Agricultural and General Workers Union Fitzroy Bain
- Minister of Education Jacqueline Creft
- Keith Hayling of the Marketing & National Import Board
- Evelyn Bullen, businessman
- Cecil Evelyn Maitland, businessman
After the overthrow of the Coard Government, eighteen people were put on trial for their responsibility in the death of Maurice Bishop. On 4 December 1986 the High Court returned death sentences against 14 individuals in the deaths of Bishop and the seven others:
- Hudson Austin (Head of the Army)
- Bernard Coard (Deputy Prime Minister/Acting Prime Minister)
- Dave Bartholomew (Central Committee member)
- Callistus Bernard (soldier in charge of the firing squad at Fort Rupert - admitted shooting Bishop)
- Phyllis Coard (Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs)
- Leon Cornwall (Central Committee member)
- Liam James (Central Committee member)
- Ewart Layne (General - despatched army forces to Fort Rupert)
- Colville McBarnette (Central Committee member)
- Cecil Prime (Captain - present at Fort Rupert at the time of the executions)
- Lester Redhead (Captain - present at Fort Rupert at the time of the executions)
- Selwyn Strachan (Central Committee member)
- Christopher Stroude (Major - present at Fort Rupert at the time of the executions)
- John Ventour (Captain)
Two men were found guilty of eight incidents of manslaughter and given 45-year prison sentences.
- Vincent Joseph
- Cosmos Richardson
Andy Michell was found guilty of manslaughter and given 30 years in prison.
Raeburn Nelson was found not guilty and released.
All the death sentences have subsequently been commuted.
On 18 December 2008, Hudson Austin, Colville McBarnett and John Ventour were released. The seven remaining prisoners were due to be released by 2010. On Friday, 4 September 2009, the final seven prisoners held in connection with the Bishop coup were released from prison. Senator Chester Humphrey described the release as a milestone in the island's effort to heal wounds from the events of 1983. "It's the end of one chapter, not the completion of the book, as Grenada tries to build a future by not living in the past," he said, according to Associated Press news agency reports on 26 January 2009.
Claims of the accused
The seventeen have always maintained that they cannot be held responsible in relation to the murders of Maurice Bishop and the seven others. Those of the seventeen in positions of authority in government and in the army claim to have given no orders for the execution of the men and women. Callistus Bernard, the private who admits to organizing the firing squad and having shot Bishop, states that he "lost it". Several senior army officers present at the fort claim to have been elsewhere in the fort at the time of the executions.
Colville McBarnette, while having admitted his role in a central committee meeting he claims ordered the execution of Bishop, says that he is innocent because of the minor degree of responsibility he had in the decision.
Ewart Layne signed a confession at the time of Bishop's murder accepting sole responsibility for issuing the orders that led to the executions. Layne subsequently said that he was beaten and forced to sign the statement.
Hudson Austin has never explained his actions nor attempted to defend them.
Bernard Coard, the head of the government at the time, has stated that he intended to leave the country after the protests concerning his arrest of Bishop broke out.
Some have questioned the fairness of the defendants' trial. Several people have campaigned on their behalf worldwide and a pamphlet by Richard Hart, The Grenada Trial: A Travesty of Justice (Committee for Human Rights in Grenada, 1993), gives a critique of the trial process. In October 2003 Amnesty International issued a report stating that their arrest and trial had been a miscarriage of justice.
- "Grenada releases 3 coup prisoners" Associated Press, December 18, 2008.
- Anon (7 September 2009). ""Last of Grenada 17 Released"". BBC Caribbean. Retrieved 22 July 2012.
- The Grenada Revolution Online.
- Robert Plummer, "Amnesty raises plight of 'Grenada 17'", BBC News Online, 23 October 2003.