TIVOLI Gardens residents reacted with shock, anger and tears to the news that Christopher 'Dudus' Coke was slapped with the maximum 23-year prison term in a Manhattan, New York, federal court yesterday after pleading guilty last August to racketeering charges in the United States.
The residents of the West Kingston enclave where the convicted gang leader was based called the sentence "harsh" and an "injustice".
Sticking to the sentencing guidelines under a plea bargaining arrangement reached between Coke's defence team and prosecutors last August, Judge Robert P Patterson imposed the maximum sentence, despite last-minute pleas for leniency by Coke himself and his attorney Stephen H Rosen.
Patterson also turned down a request to have Coke's sentences on conspiracy to traffic drugs and firearms -- for which he will serve the maximum 20 years -- and conspiracy to assault, for which he was sentenced to three years, run concurrently. Instead, the sentences are to run consecutively.
Coke has 14 days to appeal, but in an interview after the sentencing, Rosen said "there are no plans to appeal because of the limited scope to do so under the plea bargain arrangement".
In imposing the sentence, the judge said he took several issues into consideration, including the damning evidence by two prosecution witnesses last month. He said the evidence was corroborated and credible.
Judge Patterson told the court that he also took into consideration Coke's violent control over residents of Tivoli Gardens, which he said included harsh punishment for persons who went against his rule, as well as the fact that he admitted to many of the crimes for which evidence was presented against him.
Judge Patterson also commented at length about Coke's association with the Tivoli-based Presidential Click Organisation, saying he took into consideration "the defendant's benevolence and charitable work in Tivoli", as well as a number of letters from the West Kingston community and from New York in support of and against Coke.
When he was asked by the judge if he had anything to say, Coke stood and thanked his followers for their support. Of his accusers, the former strongman said in a soft voice: "I can't stand here and say I have done no wrong, but I am not guilty of the things I have been accused of. I don't know these witnesses; I have never seen nor met Anthony Brown before he testified two weeks ago. They seem to know more about me than I know about me."
He then asked the judge to use his discretion.
And while he said he was not surprised at the sentence, Rosen said he was disappointed. "We already knew what to expect under the plea bargaining agreement," he said.
Coke's family members and supporters, led by his Aunt Angella Jackson and cousin Tanio Jackson, who gave him full support, also expressed disappointment at the long sentence.
A number of Tivoli residents with whom the Jamaica Observer spoke yesterday said a more appropriate sentence would have been between 10 and 15 years.
"We no say he's perfect, but God Almighty, it too harsh!" said one among a group of women gathered to discuss the sentencing of their former 'don'.
According to the women, crimes have become rampant in the community since Coke's extradition to the United States two years ago and will only get worse. The women spoke about the rape of a young girl recently and robberies in the community. These things, they said, could not have happened when Coke was around.
A woman who said that she would be leaving the community now that Coke will not be returning any time soon, added "The judge should have helped him out with a five-year [sentence]".
"Dudus, we love you," one woman shouted repeatedly, while another encouraged Coke to pray and trust God to set him free.
The women, despite speaking out, did not want their pictures taken and declined to give their names, even as they defended Coke, the man they called their president and a provider for the less fortunate in the tough West Kingston community.
Meanwhile, in a section of Tivoli called 'Rasta City', several people expressed displeasure with the 23-year sentence given to their former 'boss'. They, however, hid in their faces from the news cameras as they ranted about the long prison term.
However, one man who did not bother to hide from the camera as he stood on the first floor of an apartment building, said the sentence was too harsh. "That is wickedness; the boss don't do anything to get 23 years; that's not fair. Prezi don't get no justice!" the man shouted.