ARNHEM/PHILIPSBURG–The Prosecutor called for a life sentence Friday for main suspect in the “Mars” investigation Kathron “Kuchi” Fortune (41), who is accused of killing two men in a hotel room on the ground floor of Simpson Bay Resort in broad daylight on December 5, 2016.
During his trial, which took place at the courthouse in Arnhem, the Netherlands, the defendant not only faced charges of murder/manslaughter and illegal-weapon possession, he was also accused of hiding the victims’ bodies and of having escaped his detention on February 15, 2016, during a visit to a medical doctor in Cay Hill.
Fortune was re-arrested and detained in St. Kitts on July 29, 2017, after which he was taken to St. Maarten to sit out the remainder of his 21-year prison sentence for a murder committed in 2006. After Hurricane Irma, he was transferred to the Netherlands for security reasons. He is currently detained at the maximum-security prison in Vught.
The Prosecutor stated that based on evidence provided by statements of two other suspects, surveillance-camera images, telephone conversations and DNA samples found in the hotel room, it could be concluded that the accused had robbed the victims of an undisclosed amount of jewellery after killing them and dumping their bodies in Little Bay Pond near Belair.
The victims’ mortal remains were found August 1, 2017. The Prosecutor said Friday, that not much had remained of the two men who had been missing since December 5, 2016.
“Bones and two sculls in two bundles consisting of a bedsheet and a spread, mortal remains that were dumped there as if these were waste, dumped with the intention of never being discovered,” the Prosecutor said.
Based on the discovery of the two bodies, the “Mars” investigation was launched, which led to Fortune’s arrest and those of his brother T.J.F. (29) and his ex-partner K.K.K.S. (33).
Almost two years after the crime, during a preliminary hearing on November 7, 2018, Fortune took all responsibility for the victims’ deaths and said he had dealt each of them a blow with the butt of his gun.
He claimed his two co-defendants had nothing to do with the deaths of Luis David Sarante Diaz and Erwin “Eggy” Rosario Contreras, who were both 23 years old when they were killed.
According to the Prosecutor, however, this statement did not match with other evidence. “From the suspect’s statement it clearly emerges that in taking all guilt upon himself the suspect wants to take the heat off his brother and the mother of his children,” the Prosecutor said.
In the Prosecutor’s opinion the two men were victims of a rip deal for which they paid with their lives. First, Sarante Diaz was lured to the hotel room by Fortune’s brother after which he was hit several times and left to die in a bathtub. Thereafter, Eggy was taken to the same room where he met the same fate.
Forensic investigations proved that both men were killed by violence in the room. Blood traces of both victims were found in the bedroom and the bathroom, the Prosecutor said. After cleaning the room, the perpetrators took the two bodies to a van to dump them in Little Bay Pond.
According to the Prosecutor’s Office, Fortune had no good intentions when the room was hired for one day. “He was on the run, he was surviving and particularly interested in making money,” the Prosecutor said in stating that Fortune had been after the jewels the dead men had in their possession, which were possibly stolen from Ama Jewellers on Front Street in November 2016. The jewels were never retrieved.
The Prosecutor was convinced that Fortune had the intention to rob Sarante Diaz. This eventually led to the man’s death, which crime was qualified as aggravated manslaughter.
Eggy was considered a witness who had to be killed. In his case, the Prosecutor considered murder proven. The other charges could also be proven, the Prosecutor said.
The Prosecutor dismissed self-defence pleadings. Fortune had stated that he was in the hotel room for a drug deal and had defended himself after Sarante Diaz had entered the room with a gun in his hand, but the Prosecutor dismissed this statement and maintained that he had not been at the hotel for an “honest” deal but to “settle scores.”
She said the defendant’s criminal record was testament to his character, which she described as “violent, dangerous, and seemingly without a conscience.”
In calling for a life sentence the Prosecutor said society needs full protection and retribution for the defendant’s acts. “With such behaviour, a criminal record such as defendant’s and these types of serious crimes, only one punishment is appropriate and fitting.”
Fortune told the Judge that he had arranged a sale of drugs, but had been confronted with two men who had the intention to rob or to kill him. “The deal was not about jewels, but about drugs,” he said. “US $10,000 for one kilo. It was 10 kilos,” he said.
“No one closes a deal on the side of the road or at a bar unless it’s a rip deal, that’s why I rented a hotel room to make a safe deal. … I needed money, not jewels.”
He said it had not been his intention to kill anybody. “They did not show any signs of life in the hotel. I wanted to bring them back to life in the shower, but that did not work. I did not want them dead. It hurts every day that these two young men lost their lives, … but I cannot turn back the clock. I am sorry for what has happened.”
According to Fortune’s lawyer Sjamira Roseburg, the Mars investigation concerned a typical underworld case in which a “normal” deal turned into a rip deal with deadly casualties, “something my client never saw coming.”
The lawyer said her client had been on the run for more than 10 months. He was slowly but certainly running out of money and got in touch with someone to make a deal which would have led to sufficient financial means to continue his life as a fugitive.
If he had had the intention to rob or kill the men he would not have arranged a meeting at the resort which was teeming with tourists, but in a seedy neighbourhood, the lawyer stated.
The reason for meeting at the resort was that he wanted to close a “clean and honest” deal with the buyers “without any problems,” but the two men “apparently” had other plans possibly on behalf of their patron, Roseburg said, adding that the victims had been involved in rip deals before.
The lawyer pleaded with the Court not to impose a life sentence, but to acquit her client of the murder and manslaughter charges. She said her client had acted in self-defence, which in her eyes should lead to her client’s dismissal from prosecution.
Roseburg said it could be proven that Fortune had escaped his detention, but said he had seized the opportunity when he noticed that the shackles around his ankles had come loose and had made a dash for freedom. For this crime, her client should be pardoned, she claimed.
The lawyer said her client is not a monster but the father of an 11-year-old son and a 19-year-old daughter. He currently has been detained in the Netherlands for almost 18 months after having been detained in the Pointe Blanche prison since 2006 without any plans for rehabilitation, for which she held the St. Maarten Government responsible.
A judge, prosecutor, court recorder and Fortune’s lawyer travelled from St. Maarten to the Netherlands to attend Friday’s hearing. A second recorder and a translator, as well as the public and the media in St. Maarten, were able to follow the proceedings at the Courthouse via video-conferencing.
New office manager at the Courthouse Richelda Emmanuel said that “history was made” with this first-time hearing which was held simultaneously in the Netherlands and in St. Maarten.
The cases of Fortune’s co-defendants, who are both held in preliminary detention in the Pointe Blanche prison, will be heard at the Courthouse in Philipsburg on May 15-16.
The Court will give its decisions in all three cases in the Mars investigation on June 5.