KINGSTON, Jamaica – Police have arrested a 20-year-old man in connection with the killing of former heavyweight boxing champion Trevor Berbick, who was bludgeoned and left to die in a church courtyard next to his family's home in a rural Jamaican hamlet.
Several residents of the remote farming community in Norwich district identified the suspect as a man who was involved in a land dispute with the troubled boxing champion, but police spokesman Les Green on Sunday refused to name the arrested man before his arraignment, which has not yet been scheduled.
"We have some very good information from witnesses and we have recovered a weapon we believe was used in the assault," said Green, a Scottish detective who was appointed the violence-wracked nation's assistant police commissioner earlier this year.
Green would not say what kind of weapon was recovered or where it was found. Police have not disclosed a possible motive for the homicide or if others were suspected of being involved in the slaying of Berbick, who is best remembered as boxing legend Muhammad Ali's final opponent in 1981.
Investigators arrested the suspect several hours after Berbick's body was discovered about 6:30 a.m. Saturday in his hometown parish of Portland, roughly 80 miles east of the capital, Kingston. Berbick, who was believed to be 52, was pronounced dead by a local doctor in the church courtyard next to the three-bedroom house where he was raised.
Det. Sgt. Kenneth Bailey of the Port Antonio police station in Portland told The Jamaica Gleaner newspaper that Berbick was last seen alive early Saturday at a nearby bar.
"The body had four wounds to the back of the head, as he was probably attacked from behind," Bailey told the newspaper. "The impression and damage done to the skull have indicated that a machete may have been used by his attacker or attackers to murder him."
After beating Ali in 1981 in an unanimous decision in the Bahamas, Berbick went on to win the WBC heavyweight title fours years later in a decision over Pinklon Thomas. His reign was short, however, as a 20-year-old Mike Tyson knocked Berbick out in the second round of their bout on Nov. 22, 1986, to become the youngest heavyweight champion in history.
The Jamaican national fought from 1976 to 2000, finishing with a record of 50-11 with one draw and 33 knockouts. He also fought for his Caribbean homeland at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.
Following his retirement from the ring, Berbick was beset by legal problems and had U.S. convictions that included sexual assault, grand theft and burglary.
"We have our challenges in life but Trevor seemed to handle his challenges very badly," said C. Lloyd Allen, former president of the Jamaica Boxing Board and a close friend. "Once he lost to Tyson, he just went down a slippery slope."
In 1991, Berbick was convicted of misdemeanor assault for attacking his former business manager, who testified the boxer put a gun to her head and accused her of stealing money from him.
The following year, he was convicted of raping a family baby sitter in the U.S. state of Florida and was sentenced to four years in prison. He also was convicted in 1992 of second-degree grand theft for forging his ex-wife's signature to get a mortgage on a home.
After serving 15 months in prison, Berbick was deported from the United States. He went to Canada, where he lived for a time following the 1976 Olympics. He eventually moved back to the U.S., but was deported a second time.
Funeral arrangements have not been announced by Berbick's family.