A Kenner man wanted in a murder-for-hire scheme in Curaçao has been arrested by federal authorities and is fighting extradition to the Dutch Caribbean island. A hearing has been set for Aug. 5 in U.S. District Court in New Orleans.
The fugitive, Keith Alden Kemba Godwin, who has been living in Jefferson Parish, allegedly had a hand in the killing of Raikel Conception, a 34-year-old man gunned down last year on a speed boat in Caracas Bay.
According to court documents, Godwin, 27, who was born in St. Kitts, was recently implicated in the murder by a co-defendant known as “Monster,” a triggerman who has supposedly confessed to assassinating a member of parliament in Curaçao in a separate hit last year.
Monster, whose real name is Elvis Kuwas, told the authorities that Godwin shot Conception, but prosecutors have pointed to other witness accounts that indicate Godwin may have acted as a “chauffeur” in the killing. Conception and the parliament member, Helmin M. Wiels, a prominent politician who had advocated for Curaçao’s independence from the Netherlands, were shot to death by the same firearm, according to court documents, but Godwin is being sought only in Conception’s murder.
Defense attorney Martin Regan, of New Orleans, said Godwin has been wrongly accused and will resist being sent back to Curaçao to await trial.
Regan said Godwin has family in the United States but declined to elaborate, citing concerns for their safety. He described Godwin as “law abiding,” adding that he was living in the United States legally with a green card before he was taken into custody June 9.
“My client is absolutely denying any involvement at this point,” Regan said in a telephone interview. “He was not involved in taking anyone’s life or working with any criminals on that island. He has a girlfriend there, and his presence there simply involved his relationship with his girlfriend.”
Gert Rip, the public prosecutor in Willemstad, Curaçao’s capital, wrote a letter in May addressed to “the competent authorities of the United States of America” requesting that American authorities “track down” Godwin and arrest him under a 1980 extradition treaty between the United States and the Netherlands.
The extradition hearing scheduled for August could be only the beginning of a lengthy legal process.
“If the defendant contests extradition and appeals, the case can take two to four years,” said Bruce Zagaris, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who specializes in extradition cases and international law. “The chances of successfully avoiding extradition are not usually high, but every case depends on the facts, how well the country prepares the extradition request, etc.”
Regan, the defense attorney, said he will seek to convey to U.S. authorities the dangers of awaiting trial in Curaçao, which sits off the Venezuelan coast.
“Two of the parties allegedly involved in this case have died in jail,” he said. “I also will be working with the authorities down there to possibly convince them that they don’t want this individual at this point, that he’s been falsely accused and misidentified.”
A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite Jr., whose office is handling the extradition request, did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
Conception was shot dead Jan. 27, 2013, on a speed boat called the No Limit. Local media reported the boat “had bad luck that day” and was moored at the pier when a masked gunman approached and opened fire. A 25-year-old passenger also was reportedly hit but survived.
Investigators obtained a series of messages Kuwas exchanged with a woman, in which he allegedly implicated himself in Conception’s death. He referred to an accomplice known as “Gamba,” who prosecutors claim is Godwin.
“Mami Gamba just told me that he saw a boat coming. Mami it’s him,” Kuwas said in the messages, described in Rip’s letter as “voice notes.” He later said, “Mami Bingo it’s done. Watch the news.”
The motive for Conception’s killing was not clear in the prosecutor’s letter.
Kuwas’ wife allegedly told authorities that he received 75,000 guilders — about $42,000 — for the killing but had to split the money with his accomplice, who “acted as the driver,” according to the letter.
While Regan said Godwin has no prior convictions, court records show he was arrested in March in Jefferson Parish and booked with possession of marijuana and illegal possession of a firearm with a controlled dangerous substance.
Kenner police had been conducting an unrelated traffic stop in the 900 block of 27th Street when Godwin drove by.
“Officers were immediately overtaken by the overwhelming odor of unburned marijuana emanating from within Keith’s vehicle,” according to a police report.
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