Former Haitian senator sentenced to life in prison in 2021 assassination of Haiti’s president

Dec 19, 2023, 10:21 AM

MIAMI (AP) — A federal judge in Miami on Tuesday sentenced a former Haitian senator to life in prison for conspiring to kill Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse in 2021, which caused unprecedented turmoil in the Caribbean nation.

John Joel Joseph is the third of 11 suspects detained and charged in Miami to be sentenced in what U.S. prosecutors have described as a plot hatched in both Haiti and Florida to hire mercenaries to kidnap or kill Moïse, who was 53 when he was slain at his private home near the Haitian capital of Port-Au-Prince on July 7, 2021.

Joseph, a well-known politician and opponent of the slain president’s Tet Kale party, was extradited from Jamaica in June to face charges of conspiring to commit murder or kidnapping outside the United States and providing material support resulting in death, knowing or intending that such material support would be used to prepare for or carry out the conspiracy to kill or kidnap.

The sentencing came two months after Joseph signed a plea agreement with the government hoping to get a reduction in his sentence. In exchange, he promised he would cooperate with the investigation.

Sometimes U.S. attorneys recommend judges reduce a sentence if they determine that the convicted person collaborates with their investigation. The reduction could come months or years after the sentencing.

Federal Judge José E. Martínez handed down the maximum sentence at a hearing in Miami that lasted about 30 minutes.

At the hearing, Joseph asked for mercy and said that he never planned to kill the Haitian president. Wearing a prisoner’s beige shirt and pants, he was handcuffed and had shackles on his ankles as he listened to the judge’s ruling seated next to his attorney.

“It turned out that the plan got overwhelmed, out of hand,” Joseph said in creole. The plan changed to kill the president “but it was never my intention,” he added.

The judge said that he would consider a reduction of the sentencing if the government asked for it, but after listing to the former Haitian senator, Martínez ordered him to life imprisonment.

“Whether you attempted or not the assassination, you enter into dangerous territory,” Martínez said.

The other two people who have been sentenced in the case are Haitian-Chilean businessman Rodolphe Jaar and retired Colombian army officer Germán Alejandro Rivera García. Both were sentenced to life in prison. Joseph Vincent, a dual Haitian-American citizen and former confidential informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, pleaded guilty this month and is awaiting his sentencing in February 2024.

Seven more defendants are awaiting trial next year in South Florida.

According to the charges, Joseph, Jaar, Rivera, Vincent and others, including several dual Haitian-American citizens, participated in a plot to kidnap or kill Haiti’s president. Among the participants were about 20 former Colombian soldiers.

Joseph was arrested in Jamaica in January, and in March he agreed to be extradited to the U.S.

The Haitian government also arrested more than 40 people for their alleged roles in the murder.

Since Moïse’s assassination, Haiti has seen a surge of gang violence that led the prime minister to request the deployment of an armed force. The U.N. Security Council voted in early October to send a multinational force led by Kenya to help fight the gangs.

Kenyan officials told the AP that the first group of about 300 officers is expected to be deployed by February, with authorities still awaiting the verdict in a case that seeks to block the deployment. A decision is expected in January.

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Former Haitian senator sentenced to life in prison in 2021 assassination of Haiti’s president