JAMIE KASTNER – DIRECTOR
Jamie Kastner is known as the writer/producer/director of such idiosyncratic feature docs as Secret Disco Revolution, Recessionize! (For Fun and Profit) and Kike Like Me. His work has played at festivals including TIFF, London, Rotterdam, Hot Docs, been commissioned by BBC Storyville, ZDF/Arte, TVO, Bell Media and sold around the world on various platforms, won prizes, and resounded with audiences and critics alike.
ISHMAEL MUSLIM ALI (Formerly Ishmael LaBeet)
Born Ronald Jean LaBeet in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands in1947, Ali successfully hijacked a full American Airlines plane bound from St. Croix, USVI, to New York, rerouting it Cuba on New Year’s Eve 1984. Previously Ali and four co-defendants had been convicted of the 1972 murder of eight people on a golf course owned by the Rockefellers, the so-called Fountain Valley Massacre, a crime for which he has steadfastly maintained his innocence. Sentenced to eight consecutive life sentences plus 90 years, he had served 12 years at the time of the hijacking. He has lived in Cuba since the hijacking. The Skyjacker’s Tale is the first time he has told his story publicly.
Radical American lawyer, dramatic courtroom presence Kunstler, along with his team, acted for Beaumont Gereau and Meral Smith. Kunstler’s famous causes dated from the early days of the civil rights movement through the bitterest days of the Vietnam War. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was one of his early clients. His best-known case was that of the Chicago Eight, who were tried on charges that they conspired to incite riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
He was also known for his defence of prisoners charged after the the 1971 rebellion at Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York in which more than 40 convicts and corrections officers were killed. He died in 1995.
Margaret Ratner Kunstler
Part of the Kunstler defence team, she became chief counsel for Warren Ballentine. Together with her late husband, William Kunstler, she would become known for her work on high profile cases that included the Fountain Valley 5, Attica, and Wounded Knee, and her work at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) as an attorney and educational director. A speaker on human rights and consultant to Occupy Wall Street protesters, Kunstler co-authored with Michael Ratner Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in Twenty-first Century America, a handbook for activists. She still practices law in New York.
Leroy “Lee” Mercer was born in St. Croix, and grew up in Frederiksted, St. Thomas. After four years in the U.S. Air Force, he put himself through university and law school in New York, driving a cab. Newly married, with a baby son, he had only been practicing civil law in St Croix for two years when he was appointed to the defense team, following the Fountain Valley Massacre and subsequent arrests, acting for Meral Smith–paid only half the already-low government rate, a hardship for a new lawyer. He and his wife Mary Mercer, who worked in the Attorney General’s office at the time, had separated by the time of the trial. Judge Warren Young, presiding over Fountain Valley trial, was also handling their divorce. During the trial, Mercer for a time shared an apartment with star visiting attorney Chauncey Eskridge. In his subsequent career, Mercer became Virgin Islands Attorney-General from 1984 – 86. Now retired, he lives in St. Thomas.
Michael Ratner, who died not long before the film’s release, in May 2016, worked on the appeals against the Fountain Valley verdict. Ratner was a leading civil liberties lawyer who successfully challenged the United States government’s detention of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay without judicial review, represented WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, and was a longtime advocate for lifting the US embargo against Cuba. As head of the Centre for Constitutional Rights, co-founded in 1966 with William Kunstler, Michael Ratner oversaw litigation that voided New York City’s wholesale stop-and-frisk policing tactic. He had previously worked with Kunstler on the Attica Prison trial.
Chauncey Eskridge, David Coar, Roy Innis
Refusing to be represented by a white lawyer, LaBeet had his family contact Chauncey Eskridge and David Coar, high-profile U.S. attorneys for the NAACP, the prestigious national black civil rights association. Among Eskridge’s clients were Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and boxing icon Muhammad Ali. Attending as consultant was Roy Innis, St Croix-born attorney for the more radical U.S. group CORE, the Congress for Racial Equality.
JUDGE WARREN F. YOUNG
Chicago-born, Harvard Law graduate Young who died in St. Croix in 1980 at the age of 63, discovered St Croix on a visit after his WW2 military service. While establishing his fledgling law firm, he opened a bar and sold real estate until his law practice grew into an 8-man firm with offices in St Croix and St Thomas, representing such blue-chip clients as the Rockefeller brothers, Laurance and David, owners of the Fountain Valley Golf Course. It was Young who gave attorney Brit Bryant his first job in the islands. In 1971, Young was appointed Federal District Court Judge for St. Croix, by then-President Richard Nixon, hearing mainly corporate and civil cases, until he was assigned to preside at the Fountain Valley criminal trial in 1972. Judge Young served on the bench till his death in 1980.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Ballentine, one of the first blacks to be appointed to the U.S. Marshal service, was based in his native St. Louis when he was assigned to head security in the Fountain Valley trial — distinguished for his experience as security chief in the 1969 trial of the Chicago 8, who were also defended by William Kunstler. Ballentine moved to St. Thomas after the trial and has lived there since. Married and living in St. Thomas since 1973, he is author of the self-published “The Last Negro,” copies of which he sent to Harry Belafonte and President Barack Obama. Ballentine has also been active in an ongoing judicial battle to win USVI residents the constitutional right to vote in US federal elections, a right they presently lack.
Louisville, Kentucky-born corporate lawyer, longtime US Virgin Islands resident and former USVI senator. Bryant first came to work in St Croix in 1964 as a criminal lawyer; by the time he retired, in 2014, he was the longest-practicing lawyer in the USVI. His wife clerked part-time in the Fountain Valley pro shop, and the couple was friends with one of the victims: Pat Tarbert. On the day of the Fountain Valley Massacre, September 6, 1972 Tarbert, the pro shop manager, had stepped in to substitute for Louise Bryant, who had called in sick. Bryant was asked to be part of the defense team, but refused. He stopped practicing criminal law from that time on.
Sacks was a Washington, DC-based lawyer when he discovered the Virgin Island and moved his practice there in 1970. Appointed U.S. Attorney in 1971, he was looking forward to a long career in the Islands when he was appointed to lead the team prosecuting the Fountain Valley case in 1973. Before the trial was over, he resigned and was abruptly transferred from his VI post to a new and remote posting in Arizona in the Federal Narcotics Enforcement Administration, regional Director for the Southwest U.S. — a program that was closed down ten days after Sacks’ arrival. He went on to work for the Department of Justice in Washington as assistant U.S. attorney.
Assistant U.S. attorney Julio Brady, a USVI native and cousin of Ishmael LaBeet’s, took over in Sacks’ place for the remainder of the trial.
Now retired, Sacks lives in Oregon with his wife.
Connecticut-born Chief Assistant Attorney- General for the VI, Resnick had moved to St Croix with his parents and sisters in 1964, where his family opened a restaurant, and where Resnick worked while attending law school. The family considered themselves well integrated into island life. As Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney General, reporting to Virgin Islands A.G. Ronald Tonkin, he was a key player in the investigation and arrest leading up to the Fountain Valley trial, ensuring the legality local police in search and investigation practices, and liaising with the dozens of FBI and US Marshals brought in to manage the situation. He later went into private practice in St. Thomas, and was appointed a judge, and was honored by the District Court and the V.I. Bar Association in 1988. Retired and living in Florida, he hopes to teach law part-time.
Dwyer was an FBI agent, part of the agency’s field division stationed in San Juan, Puerto Rico at the time of the Fountain Valley Massacre. He was flown to St Croix as part of the wave of federal agents and Deputy U.S. Marshals commandeered to help the USVI prosecutors. An ex-Marine Corps captain, he specialized in helicopter reconnaissance, so-called “vertical assaults.” Part of the second team into the suspects’ hideout house, in the ten days he spent in St Croix he also participated in interrogating Ishmael LaBeet. A 20-year veteran FBI supervisor in Latin America, since 1986 he has operated as an international private investigator. Now based in Florida, he has written a book about one of his most dramatic cases — aside from Fountain Valley.
Lee, one of the only white officers in the VIPD, began as a prison guard in 1967, transferring to the force in 1968. In the 1972 Fountain Valley investigation he participated in the manhunt and interrogations. A skilled marksman, he was part of the sniper squad assigned to cover the St. Thomas airport after the LaBeet airplane hijacking, retiring with the rank of police corporal in 1988. Lee lives in Puerto Rico where he still consults on police work, and says he has “made peace with God.”
Harris, one of the investigating officers on the Fountain Valley case, rose through the ranks from patrolman in 1968, to deputy chief of police, the post he held when he retired in 1992. Born in Frederiksted, on St Croix, like many of his fellow officers he went to school with several of the defendants, and his family were particularly close with Rafie Joseph’s. In 2008, retired from the VIPD, head of a startup sewage company and employed as a special assistant to the USVI governor, he was sentenced to a year in prison and fined, after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud, in a case involving a $3.6 million contract to his company. He served six months in prison, with six months of house arrest. He lives in Christiansted, St. Croix.
Dominica-born Tuitt, who lives in St Croix with her daughter, moved to the island with her USVI-born husband in 1960. A waitress first at the Rockefeller-owned Good Hope Hotel then at their Fountain Valley Golf Course clubhouse. When gunmen stormed in, on September 6, 1972, she was badly wounded in one leg, but escaped death because she ducked beneath a counter. Later she lent her voice to petitioners who successfully sought a 1994 pardon for the youngest defendant, Rafael “Rafie” Joseph after 21 years in prison.
McIntosh, a St Thomas native, is the brother of Rupert “Goof” McIntosh, one of the suspects picked up by police following the Fountain Valley Massacre, for interrogation back at the Fountain Valley golf course. Dennis, a Vietnam vet who grew up with several of the defendants, lost his government job as maintenance worker after testifying at the Fountain Valley trial. He and his brother, now known as Juba, still live together in in Fredriksted, St. Croix, where he works in construction.
Maryland-born Mary Mercer Welcome, then-separated from defence attorney Leroy Mercer after three years of marriage, was a lawyer with the USVI Attorney-General’s office in 1973. She was called by the defence to testify about police interrogations of the Fountain Valley suspects. She later represented Wayne B. Williams, convicted of the Atlanta Child Murders in 1982. She currently practices law in Maryland, specializing in wage claims and discrimination.
Ex-US Airforce who flew transport planes in Vietnam, Korshin was the pilot of American Airlines Flight 626, heading from St Croix to New York, on New Year’s Eve 1983, when it was hijacked by Ishmael LaBeet (later Ishamel Muslim Ali). Korshin modestly claims to have had closer calls in his military career. Retired and living in Florida with his wife, herself a retired stewardess. He still feels airline security is “a joke.”
The Production Team
Editor: Jorge Parra
Director of Photography: Derek Rogers
Original Music by David Wall, Jamie Shields & Adam White
Research: Sheila Mandell, Susan Kastner, Joanne Loton
Archive Producer: Elizabeth Klinck
Location Sound Recordists: Sanjay Mehta, Chris Miller
Additional Camera: Alan Poon, Jeff Cole
Production Designer: Marian Wihak
Production Manager: Jennifer Mesich