Two Tobago families still grieving from the 2009 murder of teenaged friends Rondell Thomas, 15, and Kolen Salandy, 16, said they are not buying convicted murderer Alvaro Ayers’ last-ditch plea of innocence.
On Wednesday, Ayers, also known as Josey Wales, was sentenced to hang by Justice Althea Alexis-Windsor for the double murder. The boys’ bodies were found close to each other at French Fort in Scarborough on September 19, 2009.
Ayers was charged with Gary Mohammed for the murders but the latter was killed in a police shootout in October 2009.
An autopsy report said the teenagers died from blunt force cervical trauma and broken necks.
Ayers, who had three addresses in Tobago — at Bethel, Mason Hall, and Bagatelle No 1 in Scarborough – surrendered to the police.
He was represented by attorneys Amerelle Francis and Josiah Soo Hon at the judge-alone trial.
Before the death sentence was read to him, Ayers insisted, “I am not guilty.”
The judge has not yet given her written verdict giving the reasons she came to her decision.
When Newsday visited Thomas’ family on Friday, his mother, Ann Thomas-Patrick, said she felt sorry for Ayers but also relieved.
“I am very sorry for the young man – as a mother.
“Whatsoever happened cannot bring back my child, but what I’m sure about is that he’ll never be able to hurt another family as much as he has hurt our children,” she said.
Thomas-Patrick, weeping openly as she discussed the verdict, echoed the sentiments of Pauline Bharat, the mother of murder victim Sean Luke, who exactly seven days ago learned that the two men on trial for the murder of her son in 2006 were found guilty.
“This sentence brings no comfort to me,” Thomas-Patrick said clutching a rag near her face as the tears flowed.
“How would it bring comfort to me knowing that it wouldn’t bring back my child?”
Nevertheless, she said she was grateful to have buried her son.
“The police and everybody who worked in this case did a marvellous job, I congratulate them, of course.
“I got to see my son buried – I got closure.”
‘It could have been anybody”
Thomas’ step-father, Arthur Patrick, believes the incident could have been prevented.
“There were many complaints and we as the public need to be more…insistent that the people that we have to enforce laws, take things more seriously. There were complaints about the area in which guys were selling (illegal substances) and things that they did to people, but nobody took them seriously.
“It really didn’t bound to be our son – it could have been anybody at that point.”
Patrick said since the verdict he has been getting flashbacks.
“I could see him right now, for the past couple of days I have been seeing him, his smile.”
He said Thomas loved cooking from a tender age and dreamed of becoming a chef, but he was also an avid football player.
Recalling the last time seeing his stepson, Patrick said Thomas had left home to watch a game of football at the Dwight Yorke Stadium. He said the boys came home but went back into Scarborough to purchase fried chicken.
He said Thomas was spending some time as his brother’s house, so he didn’t know he was missing until the following morning when news surfaced of his death.
“I got a call asking if I had heard of the two boys found in French Fort and the persons said one of them is Rondell.
“Is only when the police come I realised that it was serious. It was sad, I got mad.”
Patrick said his family put their faith in God to help them through the pain.
“I am glad that God gave me and my wife the courage to overcome this, it even brought us closer, but in all this there was a message. The message was: when you are at the head of a family, always try to put right where right is. The old people have a saying that fish does rot from the head and when fish head rotten, the rest of the body not good.”
Patrick said he does not buy Ayers’ insistence that he was not guilty.
“That physical judgment (to hang) – I didn’t want that to happen.
“I want him to sit where he is and reflect on what he has done. He could cry how much innocent he wants; we knew he was guilty. At the end of the day, he has more than enough time to contemplate and ask the Almighty God to give him mercy.”
At Patience Hill, Kolen’s father, Kurt Salandy, said although the wheels of justice turn painstakingly slow, he was satisfied.
“The judgment was very long in coming – we all know that the justice system in Trinidad and Tobago takes a long time.
“We’ve been involved in the process from the time that the accused was prosecuted, charged and leading up to the High Court trial, so those things started off long, long time.
“So, it was trying, it was frustrating sometimes but at this point in time, I must say that we are satisfied and we’re pleased that the matter is finished and there has been a verdict and a sentence,” he said.
Salandy too does not believe Ayers’ plea of innocence.
“Justice was given to the family, and we all knew that he was guilty from the evidence that came out of the matter and for what we knew when we pursued this matter from the beginning, therefore even though it took 12 years to realise, I must say that justice has been served.”
Although the death penalty has been difficult to execute in TT, Salandy said if it happens, “justice will finally and completely be served.”
Victim’s sister: My parents weren’t negligent
Salandy said Kolen was the last of his three children and his death affected the entire family.
“At the end of the day, we have a strong family bond and we all tried to reach out and assist the children first in terms of how the deal with it. We had some counselling sessions and it was extremely difficult and it was extremely difficult because of the way in which he died – it was certainly not deserving. It was senseless and there was no reasoning behind it – that was the most difficult thin,g that as a family we had to deal with and as individuals we have to deal with – it was an uphill battle, it got easier as the years rolled around.”
Kolen’s sister Kristen recounted fond memories of her brother whom she described as a “prankster.
“I remember this one time, he found one of those horsewhip snakes in the yard. It was a Christmas time; he brought it into the house, and I was obviously scared, and he had this grand idea to hide the snake in the Christmas tree because he thought if mummy saw it, she would panic. So he put it in the Christmas tree to hide it.
“When he went back looking for it, it could not have been found.”
Kristen said her brother was “mannish and independent” and although he was the smallest of his football team he was “big in personality.”
She said his death could not be blamed on her parents being negligent.
She said in her formative years they were never allowed to travel as their parents took them everywhere but Kolen, being the youngest, was given privileges they weren’t.
She said Kolen was allowed to go out that one night and although he was told to call when he was ready for pick-up, the call never came.
Cheryl Salandy, Kolen’s mother, thanked ASP Rodhil Kirk and state prosecutor Giselle Ferguson-Heller for helping bring the matter to a conclusion.