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Oct 29, 2003

Mom has doubts in trial of son’s killers

Story Picture
In the wee hours of May eleventh, 2001, four young men–all high schools students at St. John’s College–entered the strip club and brothel known as Raul’s Rose Garden on the Northern Highway. The four: Said Musa, Jr.; Ryan Edwards; Eugene Zabaneh, Jr.; and his cousin, fourteen year old David Zabaneh, Jr. somehow got caught in the middle of brawl between two groups of drunken British soldiers. While his three friends managed to escape, David did not. He was savagely beaten and died less than two days later at a hospital in Miami. After a decision was made to handle the killing under British military law, a lengthy investigation ensued. The prosecution was hampered by a language barrier with the Nepalese speaking Gurkha soldiers and a code of silence, which encouraged them to protect their fellow countrymen. But in the end three Gurkhas were charged with the murder and a court martial is scheduled to begin next month at BATSUB headquarters in Ladyville. When that trial gets underway the most interested observer in the room will be Maria Zetina. She is the mother of David Zabaneh, Jr.; he was her only child. Until today, Zetina has never spoken to the press, preferring to place her faith in the British investigators and their frequent assurances that David’s killers would be found and punished for their crimes. But today, she is no longer so sure, and this morning she shared her doubts and concerns with me at her home in Belize City.

Maria Eliza Zetina, Mother

“He had to be taken to a place like that… his influence from his friends only with.”

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting

“Why, because you have spoken to your son before about problems he could get himself in?”

Maria Eliza Zetina

“Yes, Yes, everyday. Everyday I spoke to David, everyday.”

Two years after fourteen-year-old David Zabaneh was viciously beaten by a group of Gurkha soldiers and later died, his mother, Maria Eliza Zetina, is still struggling with her loss and trying to see that those involved are brought to justice.

Maria Eliza Zetina

“At the very beginning, I must tell you Jackie that the investigations seemed very positive and everything was going well and that they were trying to do their best. I was always reminded about that by the British. Every time they see me, they tell me that they will get to the bottom of this and that these men will be brought to justice. And they always encouraged me when they see me. But after I decided to sue them for compensation, because the year was almost up and they told me that if I don’t…the Prime Minister told me himself that I will need to sue them before the year is up because then the suit will not be valid. So I went ahead and did that with the help of lawyer Flowers. That was last year May. After that the British came to my house, I think it was in June after that, and they told me that they cannot continue to give me any support or they cannot continue to inform me anymore, but they will only do it through my lawyer because I have sued the British Government and you know, they don’t want to defy the Crown.”

On November tenth the soldiers accused of the crime will go on trail in Belize. The court martial is scheduled to take place at the headquarters of BATSUB in Ladyville.

Jacqueline Woods

“Do you know if you will be able to attend the proceedings?”

Maria Eliza Zetina

“Well, that is what I don’t know up to know and that is what I want to find out. And I would like the Belizean public to know that this is very unfair, you know I am still grieving, I need to know the truth. So I think I have a right to be there and also I think the media has a right to be there. Why are they having all of this behind closed doors?”

Jacqueline Woods

“Do you believe that those accused should be charged with murder?”

Maria Eliza Zetina

“The ones accused? If I believe? I believe they should be charged for murder because, really, they murdered my son. And I know it’s all left up to circumstantial evidence because there has to be, but they should be tried and they should be given the maximum penalty. If they don’t have enough evidence, and the only not enough evidence that they would have is that they cannot be identified because they all look alike. But people saw them killing this boy you know, there are witnesses.”

Jacqueline Woods

“Do you believe they will receive the maximum penalty?”

Maria Eliza Zetina

“Well according to the prosecutor who came to see me about a month and a half ago, he told me that–he came especially to see me and to tell me that the charges had been reduce for the Gurkhas to violent disorder. And I was very mad about that, and he said that is why he came to explain to me why. And he said that that at the very beginning, the Gurkhas were interviewed and they were giving information that they saw three of them beating on my son, and they gave the three names of the three Gurkhas from the same Gurkha group, three of them, some of them talked. But when it came to be under oath these witnesses then changed their story. They said that they saw them, but that they were not doing anything or that they are not sure. I mean they changed their story and that changed the whole evidence that was there. “

Jacqueline Woods

“Do you only blame the Gurkhas for your son’s death?”

Maria Eliza Zetina

“I blame all who were involved. I blame all who were involved.”

Jacqueline Woods

“What about the club? Because your son was a minor, so I guess you are wondering how he was able to enter that establishment.”

Maria Eliza Zetina

“That is why Jackie, it’s all who were involved.”

It is not clear whether members of the public, press or even Zetina herself will be allowed to observe the court martial proceedings.



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