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Jun 27, 2002

6 Gurkhas charged in killing of 14-year-old

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The wheels of justice may have moved slowly in the death of David Zabaneh, but they have moved nonetheless. Today it was announced that six soldiers of the British Army’s Gurkha regiment have been charged with the killing of the fourteen year old S.J.C. student, which occurred in Raul’s Rose Garden in May of last year. The investigation, undertaken by the Royal Military Police with assistance from Belizean authorities, was a lengthy one, in part because of the need to provide translation for the soldiers, who largely speak Nepalese. News of the prosecutions, which will be carried out under British military law, came to Belize via press reports in the U.K. and it is not clear at this point whether the six are being charged with murder or a lesser offence. Under a courts martial the maximum penalty for murder is the same as in the civilian justice system, that is life imprisonment. Colonel David Leigh, Commander of the British Army Training Support Unit, told News 5 that he only learned of the charges last night, but he was always confident that the Army investigators would follow through in the long running case. Although Leigh was not involved in the investigation, he believes that such charges are not usually filed unless the evidence is strong. As to what cracked the case, which involved up to twenty-five troops brawling inside and outside of the popular strip club and brothel, local law enforcement sources say that forensic evidence likely played a strong role, with DNA matches being made from blood stains on the soldiers’ clothing. A number of local witnesses were also flown to England to give statements and identify suspects. David Zabaneh, along with three other S.J.C. students, entered the bar on the night of May tenth. A fight ensued in which Zabaneh was beaten and soon fell into a coma. He was evacuated to a hospital in Tampa, Florida and died there several days later. For the Gurkhas, one of the most highly praised military units in the world, it has been their worst scandal in almost two centuries of fighting for the British crown.

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