The night Peter Tosh was killed
Crimes that rocked the nation
HOW did the internationally known Jamaican icon and reggae singer, Peter Tosh — second only in fame to the legendary Bob Marley — really die?
And, after the impact of his brutal murder hit the local and foreign Press, what other sensation could one have imagined the blood-thirsty killers had in mind, when they also massacred, in one sitting, well-known broadcaster and disc jockey, Jeff Dixon, o/c Free I; and another man, known as Wilton Brown?
And, to add spice it seemed, to the whole movie-like script, the common-law wife of Tosh, Marlene Brown; the wife of Free I; and visitors Michael Robinson and Santa Davis, survived to re-visit this bloodcurdling tale. But not before Marlene Brown went through agony, as at first blush, it was thought a bullet had lodged at the back of her head.
She went, as Jamaicans would say, “to death's door”.
Mr Justice Patterson (later appeal judge) and a jury heard all about this tragic story in the No 1 Home Circuit Court in 1988.
It was a story that would be followed well beyond the shores of this beautiful Caribbean island. Winston McIntosh, known to his legion of fans as Peter Tosh, the 'Stepping Razor', was part of the trio the Wailers — the other being Neville Bunny Wailer Livingston and Robert Nesta Marley, known to the world as Bob Marley.
He was known for his biting lyrics and radical disposition that endeared him to those who opposed “the establishment”. To symbolise this, he carried a guitar in the shape of an M-16 rifle. And it was, ironically, by the gun that he would meet his end.
Dennis Lobban, familiarly called “Leppo”, appeared before the court charged with the multiple murder of: Wilton Brown; Peter Tosh and Jeff Dixon, o/c Free I, a well-known Rastafarian broadcaster and disc jockey on the now defunct
Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) radio.
Mr Kent Pantry, retired Director of Public Prosecutions, the then Counsel for the prosecution, marshalled the evidence.
The murders were alleged to have taken place at the Barbican Road residence of Tosh, while he and Marlene Brown, whom he named his “Empress” had been entertaining a group of friends.
Ever heard the Jamaican proverb “Sorry fi mawgah dawg, mawgah dawg tun 'roun bite yuh?” Well, that proverb, I would say, sums up adequately what allegedly happened in this case.
For the learned trial judge and jury were treated to a tale from witnesses for the prosecution, the likes of which makes screen writers in Hollywood sign on the dotted line.
In effect, the witnesses related how Tosh had fed, nurtured and even provided a new bed for Lobban, who had recently been released from prison. Lobban had been allowed to visit the Barbican Road residence from time to time and had even become familiar with the trained dogs therein.
On the night of September 11, 1987, he and two other gunmen entered the home, robbed all the persons there, then shot and killed Tosh, Free I and Wilton Brown. Marlene Brown, who was also shot, played dead and survived.
Indeed, all the persons present, were shot, after being ordered to lie face down on the floor.
The popular word on the street was that Lobban felt betrayed after allegedly serving jail time in place of Tosh. But that was not the evidence that came out in court.
Dennis “Leppo” Lobban appeared in court later, looking like the victim rather than the cruel monster the prosecution was seeking to prove that he was. Attorney R L Williams was representing him.
Night of horror
It was Marlene Brown's testimony that about 7:30 pm on September 11, 1987, Tosh and herself were at home with friends, enjoying a private, peaceful evening watching a programme by satellite, in their living room.
Amidst drinks and subdued laughter, the night's quietude was shattered by the unexpected entry of “Leppo” Lobban, accompanied by two gunmen, hitherto unknown to her. Lobban was toting a gun. They were ordered to “belly it”. She understood that to mean, they should lie face down. Lobban demanded “US currency”.
Brown explained that Tosh had recently returned from a business trip to the United States where he was expecting to be paid in US dollars. Lobban seemed to have overheard bits of telephone conversation prior to Tosh's visit to the US and had, it
seemed, planned the robbery. Tosh responded to Lobban that he had no money. Lobban then complained that Tosh was giving his woman “authority over we” and that she, Marlene, was responsible for the inability of Tosh “to maintain we”. Brown heard Lobban instruct the two men who accompanied him to disarm Tosh, as “he was a Black Belt”, whereupon Tosh was frisked and gunbutted; he seemed unconscious. When she objected to the remarks made by Lobban, witness testified that Lobban threatened to kick Tosh, who was lying there helpless on the floor.
Just about then, witness recalled, there was a knock at the door. One of the gunmen opened the door. Free I and his wife were ushered in. They too, were ordered to lie face down on the floor. Free I objected and a gun was jammed into his side. He obeyed. They were all stripped of their jewellery and other personal effects.
What followed after was a barrage of shots. Tosh, Free I and Wilton Brown was killed instantly.
Marlene Brown was shot in the head but lived.
When the men were about to leave, one of them observed: “She no dead!” He was about to turn back, but Lobban commanded: “Come! She dead a'ready.” Michael Robinson, another survivor, gave evidence pretty much similar to that of Marlene Brown. The widow of Jeff Dixon, o/c Free I, knew none of the gunmen, including Lobban. She never attended an identification parade.
The officer in charge of the investigation, Detective Senior Superintendent Isadore “Dick” Hibbert, (now retired Asstistant Commissioner of Police, i/c Crime Portfolio) testified, that Lobban was later taken into custody as a result of a confession of a co-accused (who waited nearby the crime scene, in a get-away car on the night of the murders, heard the barrage of shots, then transported the men in the car, away from the scene).
The journal of Asst Commissioner of Police (ret'd) Isadore 'Dick' Hibbert
Steve Russell, a taxi driver of a St Andrew address was taken into custody for questioning in connection with this investigation. He revealed that prior to the murders, he had been engaged by “Leppo” Lobban to transport him and two men in his taxi to the Barbican Road residence of Tosh. He was not advised as to the purpose of the visit.
On the night of the murders, Lobban and two men boarded his taxi in the vicinity of the Carib Theatre at Cross Roads, St Andrew, as arranged. He was told by Lobban to wait at a particular point, while they went to the house.
Sometime after the three left, he heard several gunshots and he saw “Leppo” and the other two men running towards his taxi; all three men running, each with “gun in hand”.
According to Russell's story, Lobban shouted to him: “Drive! Drive!”
All three men jumped into the taxi. He drove as directed. Not a word was spoken.
He had been driving along the Half-Way-Tree Road when he noticed a police radio car, following closely behind him. Russell, in the statement, told how, on reaching in the vicinity of the Carib Theatre, “Leppo” Lobban and the other two men jumped from the taxi and escaped.
The following morning, Russell heard on the news about the murders of Peter Tosh and two others, as well as the shooting of other persons, at the Barbican Road residence to which he had transported Lobban and the other two men.
As a result, the witness stated, he went to see Police Constable Leonard Austin at Austin's home in Cooreville Gardens, off the Washington Boulevard. He had gone there to seek Austin's advice as to what he should do; Austin told him “to keep quiet.”
That was the reason why, according to Russell, he had not gone to the police station to report the matter.
I went to see Constable Austin. I was accompanied by a team of detectives from the Criminal Investigation Department. I told him what Russell had said and enquired of him whether it was true.
Austin said it was not. I pointed out to him that a man's life depended heavily on his — the constable's — story. Austin replied: “I never spoke to him.”
Consequently, Russell was arrested and charged in connection with the murders of Peter Tosh, Free I and Wilton Brown.
Lobban was brought into the CID Headquarters by a Roman Catholic priest sometime afterwards. He was interviewed briefly by me in connection with the names of the two men who accompanied him to Tosh's Barbican Road residence on the night of the murders. He refused to give their names or to give any information.
He was arrested and charged jointly with Russell for the murders of Peter Tosh, Free I and Wilton Brown.
Following a preliminary inquiry in the Half-Way-Tree Resident Magistrate's Court, both men subsequently appeared for trial in the Home Circuit Court.
The learned trial judge, in the course of the trial, overruled an objection taken by Counsel for the defence, Mr Williams, to have the portion of the confession, which implicated his client (Lobban) expunged from the record prior to it being admitted in evidence; basis being that the prejudicial effect outweighed its probative value.
At the end of the prosecution's case, Russell was acquitted, following a no-case submission put forward by his counsel. The judge directed the jury to return a formal verdict of 'not guilty'. Russell was discharged.”
Lobban's defence was an alibi.
He took an unusual step — he gave evidence on Oath from the witness box.
It was his story that both Marlene Brown and Michael Robinson, whom he knew before, were “carrying feelings” for him and therefore, were motivated by malice, in the evidence each gave against him.
In relation to Marlene Brown, he claimed that at one time, in the presence of Tosh, she had called him “a f…ing liar” and a “news carrier to Tosh”. In spite of all that, he told the court, he nonetheless ate the food she cooked and offered to him.
But, as regards Robinson, witness was of the view that Robinson was jealous of him. He recalled an occasion when Robinson had asked Tosh for money; Tosh gave Robinson J$500, remarking that he had no money. Robinson was not happy. At the same time, Tosh had remarked that he, Lobban, was his brethren. The next time he saw Robinson at Barbican Road and he spoke to Robinson, Tosh claimed he was given the “cold shoulder”.
Convicted on all counts, Lobban appealed to the Court of Appeal. On June 11, 1990 the court ruled inter alia:
“…that a powerful case was made out against the applicant which fully supports his conviction on each of the three counts of murder. In the result, we came to the conclusion that there is no merit in the grounds argued before us.”
The appeal was dismissed.
Dennis “Leppo” Lobban is now serving a term of life imprisonment behind the walls of the General Penitentiary, now the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre) on Tower Street in Kingston.
Lobban's company is being kept by former Police Constable Leonard Austin who was subsequently convicted for the murder of 54-year-old Ludlow Campbell, security supervisor employed at Kingston Wharves Ltd and resident of Washington Gardens, and is also serving a life sentence at the Tower Street facility.
Next week: Beverley Champagnie: Murderer with the face of an angel and the heart of a devil
Sybil E Hibbert is a veteran journalist and retired court reporting specialist. She is also the wife of Retired ACP Isadore Hibbert. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org