Special Features
January 23, 2009
Brother’s hanging changed sibling’s life

Brendan Leslie was a hothead, while his brother David Collins was a comparative angel.

But as fate would have it, Collins only brush with the law on February 19, 1991, when he shot and killed Kenneth “Scholar” Michael, turned out to be his last.{{more}}

Four years later, on February 13, 1995, along with two other murder convicts, Collins was hanged – this country’s last execution.

According to Collins’ girlfriend Stella Baptiste, Collins came from the mountain where he was working his lands to hear that she and her sister had been having a heated argument.

Her sister called her boyfriend, Michael, who came and exchanged words with Stella, at which time Collins showed up and confronted him and demanded that he move from in front of his (Collins) house.

An argument ensued, and Michael punched Collins in his face. Collins went into his bedroom, grabbed a gun and shot Michael.

After a few days in the hospital, Michael succumbed to his injuries and Collins faced murder charges.

Before his life was snuffed out by the pull of a lever by the hangman, Collins told his brother Brendan to stay out of trouble and avoid an end like his.

“He said prison is not a nice place and we must stay out of trouble,” said Brendan Leslie, following his last visit with his brother.

Brendan Leslie speaks to SEARCHLIGHT from inside his modest shop.

Now 43, Brendan, a father of three, says that he is convinced that his brother’s advice has kept him focused and self-controlled.

“I always used to get in trouble like when I drink and thing, but since my brother was in jail I only get in one trouble since then,” he said.

Speaking to SEARCHLIGHT from his modest wooden village shop in Grieggs early on the morning of Saturday, January 17th, Leslie said that his brother’s advice made him “try to live up to my responsibility.”

“Only if I have to defend myself I will get in trouble, but I ain’t running into anything,” he swears, as he sold someone a banana from the ripening bunch he had hanging in the shop.

“When me and my neighbours fall out, they does cuss me and say that my brother hang and I will hang too, but that ain’t happening,” he said resolutely.

David Collins was hanged in 1995.

As he looked back at his brother’s death sentence, both Leslie and his mother Ethel told SEARCHLIGHT that they are still convinced that Collins was wrongfully hanged.

Without hesitation, they both acknowledge that Collins did kill, but they had an interesting argument and position on the death penalty, a position that resembles that of Director of Public Prosecutions Collin Williams.

On a recent television programme, Williams contended that the death penalty should reflect an “appreciation of the nature of the act done.”

He argued that cold-blooded, wanton acts of violence like the public beheading of Stacy Wilson in December of 2006 by Shaun Samuel demands the death penalty.

Murders in pursuance of a robbery, the murder of a state witness or a police officer, were some of the scenarios that Williams suggested demanded the death penalty.

Speaking to SEARCHLIGHT briefly about the scenario in Collins’ case, DPP Williams said that today, he doesn’t believe that the Prosecution would seek the death penalty in such circumstances.

But in 1995, the death penalty was mandatory for all murder convictions.

“He wasn’t a violent man. It was the first trouble that he got into, but I admit he should have used his hands and not go for no gun. He was wrong,” said Leslie.

“I support the death penalty, but not for everything,” said Ethel, adding “but it have some people who do thing willfully, some evil, evil acts, like how that man chop off that girl neck (the Stacy Wilson murder), things like that.”

As she advised young people to stay out of trouble and “find Christ and put on their clothes and go to church whether is Saturday or Sunday, the 65-year-old mother of 13 (eight are alive) said that her son has never been forgotten, and that he did wrong by taking a life, but didn’t deserve to be hanged.

When Collins was hanged, he left Stella with four children, the youngest, David, was four years old at the time.

“I am angry about it. I never get to know him,” said David, who is now a fourth former at a secondary school.

David, by his own admission, isn’t doing as well as he should in school, but says that he is trying hard to stay out of trouble, as he remembers his father’s fate.

Maybe, fittingly, his ambition is to one day become a police officer.

Meanwhile, 20-year-old Sheria still walks around with the only photograph they have of their father, his national identification card.

Stella recalled the emptiness, emotionally and financially, that was left when Collins went to jail and was later executed.

As she spoke to SEARCHLIGHT in the unfinished concrete house, the evidence of a dream unfulfilled was clearly seen.

“David was the only breadwinner. He had started to build this house,” she said.

“I always talk about him and tell the children stories about him,” Stella, who has since had another son from a subsequent relationship, said.

Meanwhile, Shiron, 21, herself a young mother, told SEARCHLIGHT that she is looking for a job, any job, so that she could help her mother.

Eldest daughter Cordelia 25, was away when SEARCHLIGHT visited.