Last of Grenada 17 released; Coard plans move to Jamaica

ST GEORGE’S, Grenada, September 7, 2009 – If Grenada’s former deputy prime minister Bernard Coard gets his wish, he will leave the country he has been confined to for the last 26 years – in prison for killing former Grenadian leader Maurice Bishop – and make Jamaica his new home.

The 65-year-old Coard and six others involved in Bishop’s murder – the last of the so-called ‘Grenada 17’ – were among 14 prisoners who had their sentences remitted on Friday.

Coard told reporters after walking through the gates of the Richmond Hill prison that he wanted to be with his ailing Jamaican wife, Phyllis. She was convicted for her part in the Bishop killing but released from prison in March 2000 to seek treatment for colon cancer. She was denied entry into Britain where two of her children lived so she went to her native Jamaica.

“I will be spending as little time as possible here. My wife is not well. Her health is not very good. I will join her in Jamaica as soon as I can secure a passport. I will be based there,” Coard said.

Coard and his wife, along with 15 others, were jailed for murdering Bishop and members of his Cabinet during the 1983 coup.

It was last Friday that the government announced that the Governor General had accepted the advice of the Minister responsible for the Advisory Committee on the Prerogative of Mercy, Karl Hood, to remit the remainder the sentences of those who remained in prison for that incident – Coard, Selwyn Strachan, Liam James, Callistus Bernard, Ewart Layne, Leon Cornwall and Dave Bartholomew.

“The advice of the minister represents the final act in the review process provided for under Grenadian law, specifically the Prison Rules. In the case of the seven prisoners referred to as the Grenada 17, imprisoned since 1983, the review of their sentences was also in keeping with a court order, arising out of the resentencing hearing in June 2007, for their sentences to be reviewed within two years. Without that review order from the court, their sentences would have expired within one year,” a government statement said.

The events that led to the murder of Bishop began soon after he overthrew the Eric Gairy government in March 1979. A power struggle developed between Bishop and a majority of the ruling People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG), including the co-founder of the New Jewel Movement, Coard. It led to Bishop’s house arrest and he and many others were eventually lined up and executed at Fort George on October 19, 1983.

Twelve of those convicted following the incident, including the Coards, were sentenced to death and the others to life imprisonment. Immediately following the 1991 verdict, Coard and four others were about to be executed, but an international outcry led to a postponement, and then to the commuting of the death sentences to life imprisonment.