A Navy sailor wanted by the Jamaican government on murder charges related to the island's violent 1980 elections was freed yesterday by a federal magistrate in Norfolk who ruled that the shooting incident was not a homicide.
Donovan A. Gordon, 32, an electrician's mate 2nd class aboard the submarine tender USS Emory S. Land, walked out of court a free man after spending nearly six weeks in the Virginia Beach, Va., jail since his arrest by U.S. marshals.
"It's unbelievable," Gordon said in a telephone interview from his home. "I'll just continue where I left off with the Navy." Gordon would have faced the death penalty if convicted of murder in Jamaica.
Jamaican authorities wanted Gordon extradited to stand trial in Kingston, charging that he fatally wounded two unarmed men in October 1980 while serving as a police bodyguard for then-Prime Minister Michael Manley.
Gordon, who testified in his own behalf during a two-day hearing, contended that the extradition attempt was an act of political revenge by Manley's rivals, who won control of the Jamaican government during the bloody election five years ago.
According to defense testimony, Gordon shot the men with an Uzi submachine gun during an ambush of Gordon's four-man police patrol as it cleared roadblocks for a Manley motorcade through a section of Kingston known as a stronghold of Manley's political foes.
Magistrate Rebecca Beach Smith rejected the extradition request, saying she failed to find probable cause that Gordon's actions constituted murder. Several defense witnesses, including a former cabinet minister, testified that street gunfights between political factions and police erupted almost daily in Kingston at the time.
Gordon's defense lawyers also argued that sworn statements from alleged eyewitnesses contradicted autopsy results. "If you believe their stories," said lawyer John Zwerling of Alexandria, "then the coroner worked on some other body."
Gordon left the island for the United States after the incident and joined the Navy in 1981. He was interviewed by Navy investigators later that year about antiterrorist training he had received in Cuba while working for Manley's socialist government; Gordon said he volunteered information about the shootings, but was allowed to remain in the Navy. He said he recently was recommended for reenlistment.