Photo Credit: Karsten Winegeart
Black American Expat Brothers Accused Of Murder In Ecuador Fear For Their Lives
Two Black American brothers traveled to Ecuador in hopes of revisiting a dream of theirs, which was to build a life in the South American country.
Now, they are being accused of murder.
Ronell and Roja-John “John” Stephenson fell in love with Latin American culture after Roja-John traveled to Ecuador during a study abroad program with the University of San Francisco. When he immersed himself into the ecotourism initiatives of the country and program, Stephenson planned on returning to Ecuador to settle down and make the country his new home.
Roja-John moved to Ecuador two weeks after finishing up school, with greater plans to establish his new life in a foreign region. Shortly after his arrival, he was already introducing international tourists to Ecuador because he was so enamored by the Amazon rainforest and organic agriculture that thrived in the developing country.
When they first arrived in 2014, the brothers didn’t run into any problems with the local community and knew how to navigate Ecuadorians because of their neighbors in the United States were of Latin heritage.
The small jungle town of Palora, Ecuador was where the brothers constructed their farm and this sanctuary became a community center for tourists to travel to and immerse themselves in the Amazon forest.
But, a visit from the Ecuadorian police would soon shift the positive nature of their safe space.
Officials allegedly received a call from the Tzamrendas— a nearby indigenous family— who explained that the brother’s farm was used to smuggle illegal drugs and conceal them. The Tzamrendas located two dead bodies on the brother’s farm.
Local police identified the bodies as two boys who were a part of the Tzamrendas. Ronell and Roja-John “John” Stephenson both believe that these discovered victims were planted on the farm, and now they are suspects for murder.
John made this realization after the Tzamrendas visited their farm with the police’s warrant, with shovels already prepared to dig up what would later be discovered as the two human body remains.
Their arrest in 2017 has led to a conviction and now, 34 years in captivity at one of the most dangerous prisons in Ecuador, the Cárcel de Turi. The Tzamrenda family has been investigated for past legal debacles involving murders, and the indigenous people have used their local news to diminish the image of the two brothers.
After the brothers were sent to prison, their farm was destroyed and the belongings inside were stolen, which leads John to believe that the family had taken action in this.