The Virgin Island Five (aka Fountain Valley Five) are group of men wrongly convicted of murdering eight people at the Rockefeller-owned golf course in St. Croix. They were all in their early twenties when they were rounded up with hundreds of other Black youth after the incident, and forced confessions were obtained through torture. Because now only three of the original five--Abdul Azeez, Hanif Bey, and Malik Bey-- are held in prison over 40 years later, they are referred to as the Virgin Island 3. Due to their advanced age, they have a variety of chronic health conditions that are difficult to manage in prison.
During the 1970's, as with much of the world, a movement to resist colonial rule began to grow in the U.S. occupied Virgin Islands. From 1971 to 1973, there was a small scale Mau Mau rebellion taking place on the islands. This activity was downplayed by the media, for fear it would damage the tourist industry that the island's survival depends on.
Then on September 6th, 1972, eight American tourists were gunned down at Fountain Valley, the Rockefeller-owned golf course on the island of St.Croix. Quickly the colonial authorities picked up over one hundred Black people for interrogations, and the U.S. colonial troops carried out a series of repressive acts of violence against the Black community. The F.B.I. and the United States Army troops led a 300-man invasion force into the islands and used strong armed tactics to conduct house to house searches of the low income areas.
The island was put under virtual martial law. Eventually, five men-- Ismail Ali, Warren Ballantine (Abdul Azeez), Meral Smith (Malik Bey), Raphael (Kwesi) Joseph, and Beaumont Gereau (Hanif/Haneef Shabazz Bey)-- were charged. All the men were known supporters of the Virgin Island independence movement.
The five were subjected to vicious torture, in order to extract confessions. They were beaten, hung from their feet and necks from trees, subject to electric shocks with "cattle prods," had plastic bags tied over their heads, and had water forced up their noses. The use of torture tactics was admitted to by an official in the movie, The Skyjacker's Tale.
This was an obvious Kangaroo Court and a mockery of a fair trial:
--- The judge (Warren Young) overlooking the case prior to being placed on the federal bench worked as Rockefeller's private attorney and and even handled legal matters for the Fountain Valley Golf Course.
--- The court refused to excuse juror member Laura Torres, former wife of detective Jorge Torres, one of the arresting officers.
--- Nine jurors testified that during the deliberations they were threatened with F.B.I. investigations on themselves and members of their families, and also threats of prosecution.
--- The jury deliberated for nine days, and told the judge that they were "hopelessly deadlocked," yet he still refused to dismiss them and call a mistrial which worked to compel a guilty verdict.
--- Four jurors, including the jury foreman, signed statements that they had been forced into a guilty verdict by the judge, police, and F.B.I.. One juror who's daughter was charged with bank robbery several years before, was told that those charges could be brought up again if she did not find the accused guilty.
--- The court refused to throw out the "fake confessions", even after it was proven that they were obtained through torture.
--- Even the Assistant District Attorney Joel Sacks and several police officers testified and admitted that they knew the dependents had been tortured, and that the "confessions" extracted had been obtained by such methods.
On August 13, 1973, each of the five men convicted and sentenced to eight (8) consecutive life terms. They were sentenced immediately and taken directly onto planes to the Federal prison system in the U.S.
Ismael Ali was liberated to Cuba via an airplane hijacking in 1984. Raphael (Kwesi) Joseph was granted a pardon by the V.I. governor in 1992. Six years later Kwesi was mysteriously found dead of poison-laced drug overdose, after it was said that he was about to reveal evidence that would have exonerated at least one or more defendant. The remaining three spent 29 years in the Federal prison system in the U.S. before they were transferred into the custody of the colonial administration when the U.S. terminated its penal jurisdiction for all V.I.-based cases. This transfer is the basis of the habeas petitions calling for their release because, by law, when primary jurisdiction is relinquished the prisoners should be released. This termination was discovered in 2015 while investigating why they had not been given parole hearings despite being eligible.
In December 2015, habeas corpus petitions were filed on behalf of the remaining three showing that they have been illegally and indefinitely held by the U.S. government since 2000-2001 when the sentences were vacated from V.I.-based convictions. These petitions were submitted to the U.S. District Court for the V.I. (the same court that tried the case), but while their receipt was acknowledged by judge Wilma Lewis, the petitions were never ruled on.
In March 2016, habeas petitions were filed on behalf of the VI3 with judge Theodore McKee of the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court, which is supposed to oversee the District Court of the V.I. that refused to rule on the habeas petitions submitted in 2015. Despite being certified as received, it has yet to be acted on in any way. For this reason, a complaint of judicial misconduct was filed against both Wilma Lewis and Theodore McKee, but this complaint was dismissed.
On March 7, 2016, they were taken from Golden Grove Prison in St. Croix, along with 145 other prisoners who were all sent to private prisons in Florida and Arizona. The three were sent to Saguaro Correctional Center in Arizona, which is a private prison operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). The prison in VI claimed that their Facebook page was raising funds for their escape as rationale for their transfer to the U.S. However, they were taken the day that a Writ of Mandamus was to be heard, detailing the illegality of their continued imprisonment.
In spring of 2016, a formal and complete complaint was made to the U.N Commission on Human Rights on behalf of the three and "All Others Situated," showing documented proof that the U.S. judiciary has acted in violation of U.S. and international law in order to perpetuate the U.S. systemic racist violation of Human Rights. To date, some eight-months later, the prisoners remain held in a private maximum security prison, having gone for the past 46-years from indefinite federal prisoners, to prisoners for lease indefinitely, to indefinite colonial prisoners, and now indefinite private prisoners.
Since October 2017, they have been held in U.S. private prisons run by CCA and transferred several times without warning.
Legal Initiatives as of 2018
There are two active campaigns to free the VI3 from their wrongful imprisonment. The first is a write, call or fax campaign to the VI governor to commute their sentences.
The second is a petition to the United Nations to review their wrongful imprisonment.
How to Donate
Instructions for Depositing Money into Inmate Trust via Wachovia Lockbox:
1. Obtain money orders and / or cashier’s checks made payable to inmate. Personal checks and cash are not accepted.
2. Mail money orders and / or cashier’s checks in envelopes addressed in the following manner:
CCA Inmate Trust
(Inmate Last Name, Inmate First Name / Inmate CCA Commissary #)
Facility Name: ________________
P.O. Box 933488
Atlanta, GA 31193-3488
3. Make sure sender's first and last name and return address is on the envelope.
4. Do NOT include any correspondence such as letters, cards, pictures, or packages with a money order or cashier’s check. None of these items sent to this address will be forwarded to the inmate or returned to sender.
You can also send money via Western Union by using the Internet, by phone or by a Walk-in Cash Payment. The website for internet is www.westernunion.com/corrections. The phone number for phone quick collect is 1-800-634-3422.
The Skyjacker's Tale is a documentary film released in 2017 about Ismael Ali's escape to Cuba.