Liberia: Did Ex-Soldier ‘Murder’ Dominic Renner and Winston Toe for Being ‘Gay’?
Monrovia — It has been nearly five months since Dominic Renner and Winston Toe went missing on September 24, 2020, and October 4, 2020, respectively.
Gboko Stewart, [email protected]
There appears to be no end in sight in the case of the missing men. The only clue of their whereabouts lies with Cheeseman Cole, an ex-soldier of the Armed Forces of Liberia who was dishonorably discharged for acts of criminality.
A month ago, a source shared with journalRAGE a videotape of skeletal remains found on a land nearly adjoining Cole’s. The tip was passed to the spokesperson of the Liberia National Police, H. Moses Carter, to be acted upon by law enforcement.
A soon-to-be resident of the area, during an inspection of his land, discovered the skeletal remains flushed from under a culvert by rainwater but stopped by shallow sand and savannah grass.
The source can be heard in a frightened tone recording what he found whilst also showing the camera to Cole’s residence which is within an eye view.
But when contacted days following the sharing of the tip, the Police spokesperson in a cell phone interview said human “bones are not evidential.” He said the investigation into the disappearance of the missing men is still ongoing and not a one-day event.
The discovery of the skeletal remains in January comes a month after Emmanuel Renner, father of Dominic, said he received in December 2020 a tip that human remains were found around Cole’s residence.
According to him, he alerted a Police top brass identified as R3 as he had wanted to go and identify whether it was his son’s. However, he mentioned that he was told to stay put and let the investigative team move in. To the best of his knowledge, he added, that did not happen as he did not receive a follow-up call from the Police to come in and identify the remains.
But when quizzed on this, Police spokesperson, Moses Carter, said he would follow up with the investigative team. “It is not to my knowledge. It is his right as a citizen to move freely.”
Cheeseman Cole, according to the Police charge sheet, operated a syndicate of catfishing men he suspected of being gay and luring them to his residence along the Roberts International Airport (RIA) highway where they were robbed and tortured for their sexuality.
In an interview with journalRAGE using the social media account of one of his victims, he said 27 men have fallen prey to his syndicate. “I’m a servant of God n [and] God spoke to me to get rid of all the gays in Liberia.” “Two months ago. I have gotten 27 gays and they went under deliverance.”
Cole was later arrested and charged with Aggravated Assault, Criminal Attempt to Commit Murder, Possession, and Sale of Physical Objects for Lethal Use, Felonious Restraint, and Theft of Property.
Forwarded to Monrovia Central Prison to be detained, the defendant is currently free on bail pending trial. The case has had a series of false starts at the Monrovia City Court when the complainants were allegedly asked to transport Cole’s accomplice, Emmanuel Tarpeh, from the Monrovia Central Prison to the Monrovia City Court.
But noticeably absent in Cole’s slew of charges was kidnapping, which is non-bailable under the Liberian penal code. According to a legal expert speaking on the condition of anonymity, it would have been instrumental in keeping Cole at bay as he is the last person to see the missing men.
Dominic Renner and Winston Toe, according to the charge sheet of the Liberia National Police, were captives of the disgraced former soldier at different intervals. And according to the police, an accomplice of Cole, Emmanuel Tarpeh, admitted during the investigation that the men had been captives “during which time they were also tied, beaten, and their money as well as their phones taken away from them on different dates and time which evidence can be seen on the call log that was requested for.”
LGBTI persons continue to come under threats and record instances of assault, harassment, and hate speech, according to the 2019 U.S. State Department Human Rights report on Liberia. In November 2019, a group of people celebrating a birthday and HIV party in Sinkor were attacked and brutalized by community dwellers over unfounded suspicion it was a gay wedding.
Liberian law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity between consenting adults. Article 14.74, 14.79, and 50.7 [of the Penal Code of 1976] consider voluntary sodomy as a first-degree misdemeanor, with a penalty of up to one-year imprisonment.
There has been no publicized case in recent years, but harassment and discrimination abound. With the election of President Joe Biden who has promised a wide range of options, including sanctions and aid deprivation, to protect LGBT communities worldwide, Liberia’s gay community continues to remain hopeful that its government will act accordingly in the protection of its rights.
The Government of Liberia continues to come under pressure from its external partners to do more in the protection of the rights of its Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) population. At a program a fortnight ago, the UN Resident Coordinator, Neil Calvin Scott, called on the government to implement all the recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) which, amongst a litany of other things, called for the protection of the rights of sexual minorities.
His statement came months following remarks by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Cllr. F. Musa Dean, that the constitution provides equal protection for all, regardless of sexuality, during the launch of the United Nations’ Liberia Country report on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Rights in Africa on Thursday, November 11 at a private resort.
The mystery into the whereabouts of Dominic Renner and Winston Toe is not fading away anytime soon. The spokesman of the Liberia National Police, H. Moses Carter, says “there will be a closure. There’s no time limit on the investigation—the Police are investigating.”
For Emmanuel Renner, father of Dominic Renner, and the family of Winston Toe, the reliance on the Police promise is the sinking sand of their grief. Investigation continues.
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Editor’s Note: Next edition will piece the last moments of Dominic Renner and Winston Toe prior to their disappearance.