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Nov 29, 2018

Testimonies in Orel Leslie’s Prison Lawsuit Conclude Before High Court

Orel Leslie

Arguments concluded today in the courtroom of Justice Courtney Abel who is hearing the case brought against the management of the central prison, Kolbe Foundation, by a former inmate, Orel Leslie. Seven persons testified, including Prison C.E.O. Virgilio Murillo who was cross-examined by attorney Audrey Matura. Leslie is challenging the prison for inhumane treatment he claims he suffered while on remand for murder. One of these infractions was cited as the lack of visits by a Justice of the Peace. News Five’s Isani Cayetano was in court and files the following report.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

Testimonies in a lawsuit against government and the Belize Central Prison concluded today in the Supreme Court.  Chief Executive Officer Virgilio Murillo took the stand before Justice Courtney Abel, where he was cross-examined by attorney Audrey Matura.  The proceedings follow a claim by former inmate Orel Leslie, who alleges that he was mistreated and denied of his fundamental rights while on remand for murder.  C.E.O. Murillo manages the facility on behalf of the Kolbe Foundation.


Virgilio Murillo

Virgilio Murillo, C.E.O., Kolbe Foundation

“Pretty much they were just going through my affidavit as it relates to the case, the various counter pointers that I had given against his claim that he is making against the Belize Central Prison.  So it was just a matter of going through them to, I guess, cross-examine me on whether what I said in there had any substance at all.”


…and what was disclosed in court today was quite revealing.  According to Matura, who shared a few of those details on adjournment, there are many rules and regulations in law that the Belize Central Prison has not been complying with.


Audrey Matura

Audrey Matura, Attorney for Orel Leslie

“Mr. Murillo said in his evidence on the stand that there are no visiting justices.  Now visiting justices are there to be a check and balance, to make sure that if prisoners have complaints, if there are key issues, just to be an oversight.  So they have not been there doing their function which is, how can you be having a law and then you’re observing it in default, you know, you don’t even comply with it.  So there are key things that came out, very revealing, even the amount of work that the doctor has and there are certain regulations that require him to do certain things at the prison that he is unable to do or hasn’t been doing.  So a lot will come out of it apart from it being a challenge.  I think there is a lot that will be learned from it.”


During cross-examination, a majority of the questions posed by Matura dealt with the prison superintendent’s firsthand knowledge of how inmates are treated by prison staff.


Virgilio Murillo

“That’s pretty much what she focused on and it is highly, I think, impractical, if you should use that word, for the prison superintendent or the C.E.O. to get into the day-to-day activity so I essentially have to rely on the reports that are provided to me by my people, be it a guard, be it a counselor, it doesn’t matter.”


Isani Cayetano

“How much weight or emphasis is being placed on these reports?  Is there any way to provide some checks and balances against what the officers are writing and documenting?”


Virgilio Murillo

“Well I am satisfied to say that we do have a controller of prisons who is the government representative who is there to ensure that we are carrying out the mandates of the contract in accordance to the T of the word.  That to me is a mechanism in place and he doesn’t report to me.  He reports directly to the Ministry of National Security and I think that is one very good mechanism.  The next mechanism we have is that from time to time the ombudsman goes to the prison.”


Notwithstanding those visits, the absence of a visiting justice, as per law, raises serious questions.  Initially, Matura failed to secure a removal order for a pair of witnesses to testify on Leslie’s behalf.  Today, they were both able to do so under oath.


Audrey Matura

“What happened yesterday the judge allowed it, that they can come, and the other side objected.  But the judge said, well we’ll proceed and then at the end of the full trial he will deal with the issue of objection.  Today the defendants withdrew their objection, they said [that] they have no objection to the testimony of the two witnesses who are Mr. Kenroy Cook and Mr. Andrew Kelly.  So they were cross-examined this morning, and not extensively, very briefly I must say, which is good news for us because if it is not cross-examined it means that you accept what is in the affidavit.  And then after that the defense opened their case and that’s when they called Mr. Twist, the record keepers, Murillo, the C.E.O., Dr. Novelo and then four other prison officers.  But the key ones for us were definitely Mr. Murillo and the doctor, simply because Mr. Murillo was talking about, in his affidavit, said a lot of stuff but he didn’t know anything firsthand which he admitted on the witness stand and then the doctor was important because the prison regulations and act requires that certain things be done if you are going to put a man in solitary confinement or cellular confinement.”


While testimonies wrapped up today, written arguments will be submitted, followed by a visit of the Belize Central Prison by Justice Abel.  A decision in the milestone case is not expected before February 2019. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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