Crowbar among weapons used to kill world boxing champion
Crimes that Rocked the Nation: Trevor BerbickSunday, February 10, 2013
Sybil E Hibbert
FORMER World Boxing Council (WBC) heavyweight champion Trevor Berbick had dazzled the international world of boxing with his prowess as a professional boxer par excellence when he beat Pinklon Thomas and lifted the WBC title in the early 1980s.
Then, when he defeated the legendary Muhammed Ali in 1981 in a unanimous decision in The Bahamas, his sports fans in Jamaica and internationally were jumping over the moon with sheer joy.
However, Berbick was to experience a dramatic change in his boxing fortunes when, four years later, he lost the title to the then 20-year-old Mike 'Iron Mike' Tyson, who would become the youngest heavyweight boxing champion in the world.
That fact never dulled the pride and satisfaction most Jamaican boxing fans experienced, just to know that another one of us had been there — at the top of his game — so to speak, and was still among us. He was regarded as an icon.
So when the news of his horrific death by bludgeoning was released on October 28, 2006, it hit lovers of the sport worldwide, and Jamaican boxing fans in particular, harder than the terrific punches this valiant fighter was reputed to have thrown during his victorious moments in the ring.
The 54-year-old Berbick's battered body was found near the gate to his home in Norwich district, Portland. He had been attacked while on his way home from a local night spot between 1:45 am and 2:00 am on October 28, 2006.
Who could have ventured such a daring and dastardly act in a small, sleepy community like Norwich, where such a well-beloved, much-talked-about, world-renowned boxing champion lived, was the question on everybody's lips. It seemed, at the time, hard to fathom.
It seemed even harder to fathom when two men — one of them, Berbick's own nephew — were arrested and charged with the boxer's murder.
They were 21-year-old computer technician Harold Berbick and 19-year-old labourer Kenton Gordon, both of Norwich.
A veil of deep sadness and gloom engulfed the hitherto quiet district. Crowds, finding the news not only shocking but unbelievable, poured into the area, from inside and outside the parish of Portland as well as from overseas.
Some adults cried openly, while others bemoaned the fact that their 'Jamaican boxing giant and hero' had been, as a result of the deplorable happening, lost to them forever.
The Berbick case, as with other internationally recognised murder victims, spawned various rumours as everybody tried to fill in the information gap.
When discovered, the body of the famous boxer was lying face down in a pool of blood. It had four chop wounds to the back of the head, which caused police investigators to theorise, at the time, that he was attacked from behind. Beside the body was a $100-note, which, according to the prosecution, nullified the motive of robbery.
A crowbar and a four-foot-long metallic pipe fitted with a clamp were exhibited at the trial in the Portland Circuit Court as being the weapons used to take the life of the former world champion.
Despite the fact that there were no eyewitnesses to what was described as "this most horrendous murder", Detective Sergeant Kenneth Bailey of the Port Antonio CID was able, within two days, to bring his investigations to a close with the arrest of the two accused.
On the charge of murder, Harold Berbick, the nephew of the deceased, was convicted by the jury. Justice Christine McDonald, who presided over the trial, in passing sentence on the accused took note of "his apparent lack of remorse" for what she described as his "cruel, vicious and calculated act".
Having said that, she sentenced Harold Berbick to life imprisonment and ordered that he serve 20 years before being considered eligible for parole.
Gordon was convicted on the lesser charge of manslaughter and sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment at hard labour.
This was after his attorney, Keith Bishop, implored the learned trial judge to be lenient, as Gordon had constantly expressed sorrow over the incident.
Neither of the two accused had any previous conviction.
Attorney Carl McDonald appeared for Harold Berbick. Marshalling the case for the prosecution was Crown Counsel Gerald Taylor.
It was contended by the prosecution that Berbick's nephew was in a land dispute with his uncle and had enlisted Gordon's help to carry out the deadly attack on him.
The weeping widow and Berbick's now fatherless children, along with other grieving relatives, sat in the court in Norwich listening to evidence which one can only imagine must have ripped through their hearts like swords dipped in vinegar.
At one point one of Berbick's two daughters, overcome with emotion at the sight of one of the alleged murder weapons — the long metallic pipe with the clamp — moaned loudly then proceeded to weep bitterly as nearby relatives worked feverishly to console her.
The four-week murder trial attracted media interests locally and internationally. For Berbick, the man whom he had become within the roped square called the boxing ring — despite his run-ins with the law — had created an almost magical image to his fellow Jamaicans in Norwich.
This was, indeed, one of those trials in which almost all the citizenry of Norwich came out, according to an elder statesman of the parish, "to see that justice was done".
When it was all over there were acclamations of "amen", since it had been part of the case for the prosecution that the boxer's body was discovered by a church deacon who had gone to open the doors of the Norwich Baptist Chapel, which happened to be near the flight of steps leading to Trevor Berbick's house.
The clergyman followed a trail of blood, the court was told, until it finally revealed the tragic sight of the boxer's lifeless body.
Bailey told the court that when he was arrested and charged, the accused Gordon gave a statement under caution, in the presence of a justice of the peace, explaining his role in the killing that fateful morning.
At the close of the prosecution's case, in a statement from the dock, Harold Berbick claimed that he had hit the deceased after the boxer threw two stones at him.
A report, submitted by Harold Berbick's mother — Gwendolyn Facey — in support of his defence, was read to the court.
According to the report, Facey described the late Trevor Berbick as a "violent and abusive person" who at times physically assaulted Harold and herself and "threatened them with death".
The report also claimed that Trevor Berbick had stolen a computer from her son.
Gordon, the other accused, also speaking from the dock in his own defence, told the court that he never intended to kill Trevor Berbick.
Following addresses by counsel on both sides, the trial judge summed up. It took the 12-member jury less than an hour to return unanimous verdicts in respect of each accused.
Convicted in December 2007, both men were ordered remanded in custody for sentence to be passed on them in the next session of the Home Circuit Court.
On Friday, January 11, 2008 trial judge McDonald carried out the judicial task.
An appeal to the local Court of Appeal is pending.
Next week: When a mother had to kill her own son
Sybil E Hibbert is a veteran journalist and retired court reporting specialist. She is also the wife of Retired ACP Isadore 'Dick' Hibbert, rated among the top Jamaican detectives of his time.
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