Niagara Falls Reporter
June 11, 2002
UPDATE:  3/1/07 - Charge Dropped, Persad Free




BLACK MENAGERIE: INNOCENT MAN VICTIM OF ANTI-ARAB FEAR

By Bill Bradberry

Five-month-old Sangita Persad, the daughter of Riviera Beach, Fla. native Antoinette and her Trinidadian-native husband Vishnu, could be 44 years old before she really gets to know her father, who will be nearly 70 by the time he finishes the 43-year sentence he received in Palm Beach County's first successfully prosecuted "road rage" case.

Somebody shot Mary Beth, the wife of Lake Worth biker "J.D." -- also known to the police as Robert William Dziadik. She was critically wounded as she was riding on the back of J.D.'s motorcycle, after drinking with fellow biker buddies, Robert "Bitchin' Bob" Marciante, Pamela Hornung and Gene Pullen.

After they left the Winner's Circle, a biker hangout at the corner of Okeechobee Boulevard and Jog Road in the western suburbs near Green Acres in Palm Beach County, the bikers got into a confrontation with someone, whom J.D. says shot his wife. Nobody was able to clearly identify the shooter.

Mary Beth was flown by Trauma Hawk to the Delray Medical Center, where doctors performed emergency surgery to save her life. Permanently scarred, 34-year-old Mary Beth says she wants the person who did this to her to spend the rest of his life in prison.

The question is, who shot Mary Beth?

In spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, according to a growing list of respected local and national professionals, the all-white jury appears to have rushed to judgment, refusing to believe the all-black witnesses who testified that Vishnu Persad, a pre-med student, could not possibly have shot her.

Three students testified at his trial that they were with him in the Florida Atlantic University library, studying for a mid-term exam, on the night of March 2, 2000, during the time the incident is alleged to have occurred. But the jury did not believe their testimony which, according to official records, was not refuted by the State. Their credibility was never questioned by the State's Attorney, Thomas Lawson.

Some longtime Palm Beach County residents are calling this a case of "pick-a-niggah" and "the worst case of mistaken identity" in recent memory, although many admit that "it happens all the time."

Others are saying that Persad, because he looks like he could be an Arab, is a victim of the post-Sept. 11 hysteria that was sweeping the nation and Palm Beach County during his trial, at the height of the anthrax terror here.

Palm Beach County Commissioner Addie Green, who attended some of the hearings during the trial, told the Palm Beach Gazette, "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see what's going on here. It just does not add up, the evidence does not point to Mr. Persad. He just got caught up in the whole 911 mess; it's as simple as that," she said.

Arriving in the United States in 1990, Persad graduated with honors from John I. Leonard High School in 1995. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Florida Atlantic University in Biological Science/Pre-Medical. In the summer term of 2001, he was accepted into the Health Careers Motivational program for Minorities at the University of Miami.

His parents, Daby and 55-year-old Eileen, immigrated to the United States from a very small village near Port-of-Spain, the capital of Trinidad, where they lived a deeply religious Hindu life -- just as their parents, originally from India, had lived. Brought to the West Indies as indentured servants, as were hundreds of thousands of other Indians, Persad's grandparents had been born into the higher ranks of the Indian caste system, members of the learned class, people accustomed to working with their minds.

Persad's parents followed the family tradition. They had high hopes for their children, sending one of their daughters to a convent school to study and to lead the life of a holy woman.

Now married and also living in the United States, she has been working tirelessly for the past two years to help rescue her brother.

Although all of the witnesses at the scene claim to have seen the vehicle, none of them were able to match any of the car's tag numbers. They all differed on their description of the car they say Persad was driving.

At trial, one of J.D.'s witnesses, "Bitchin' Bob" Marciante, who had earlier claimed that he had seen the shooter, could not identify Persad in court. He had reviewed a photographic lineup one week after the incident and picked out another person as the shooter.

Another state witness, Gene Pullen, who testified that he was the closest witness to the driver the night of March 2, 2000, identified another person, not Persad, from the exact same photographic lineup that J.D. had picked Persad from.

Nearly a year later, J.D.'s ex-FBI agent father hired a friend, Gunner Askeland, also an ex-FBI agent and now the operator of Atlantic Investigations. Askeland reported to the Palm Beach Sheriff's Department that Persad was the shooter and that he had found Persad as the result of an "anonymous tip" to Crimestoppers.

He acquired a photograph of Persad, showed it to J.D. indicating that Persad was the shooter and, within 15 seconds during photographic lineup at the Sheriff's Department, J.D. was able to pick Persad out.

According to court records, Askeland never spoke to Marciante or Pullen. Persad, remanded by Circuit Judge Kenneth Marra to the Palm Beach County jail on May 23, 2002, is being held on $400,000 bond, money his family and friends say they do not have and cannot get.

His appeals lawyer, Michael Gelety, filed a petition for an emergency habeas corpus hearing at the District Court of Appeals. It was denied.

Said one observer, "Isn't it ironic that at the same time they put 71-year-old Bobby Frank Cherry in jail 40 years after he helped to murder those four girls in Alabama, the State of Florida, after just three hours of deliberation by an all-white jury , is putting an innocent black man in prison for something he obviously did not do?"

Page 2, The Witnesses

The former head of the Niagara Falls Equal Opportunity Coalition, Bill Bradberry is Associate Editor of the Palm Beach Gazette, a black weekly newspaper in Florida. You may e-mail him at ghana1@bellsouth.net

Innocent Imprisoned
Eyewitness Identification

Truth in Justice