2 on trial in murder of woman who was shot in vagina and back

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ST. THOMAS - Trial began in V.I. Superior Court Monday for two men charged with killing a woman in August 2009.

Prosecutors are trying to prove that Nesta James, 28, and Denalson Merrifield, 24, shot and killed Tameka Edwards on Aug. 22, 2009, to avenge the killing of their friend, Jesse Smalls.

Smalls had been gunned down outside Club Lexus the night before.

James and Merrifield each are charged with first-degree murder, first-degree attempted murder, first-degree assault, third-degree assault, first-degree reckless endangerment and four counts of using a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence.

In a dramatic opening statement, Assistant Attorney General Renee Gumbs-Carty re-enacted the mood of the two men after they learned of Smalls' death.

"They set up my boy, they set up my boy," Gumbs-Carty said James shouted while he was outside the home of Myoshi McLean.

The night of Smalls' shooting, Smalls and Edwards had accompanied McLean to Club Lexus, where McLean worked as a bartender, Gumbs-Carty said. About 4 a.m., Smalls was outside the club, and he was shot and killed. McLean, who was shaken up, left work and returned to her home in Contant without Edwards, according to Gumbs-Carty. McLean sent text messages to James, Merrifield and several of Smalls' other friends to tell them that Smalls was dead, Gumbs-Carty said.

Later on the morning of Aug. 22, Merrifield knocked on McLean's door, according to Gumbs-Carty. When McLean opened the door, Merrifield began arguing with her and accused her of causing Smalls' death, Gumbs-Carty said. McLean denied any involvement in the killing, Gumbs-Carty told the jury.

A small crowd from the neighborhood quickly gathered in front of McLean's door and confronted her, blaming McLean and Edwards for Smalls' death, accusing them of setting up Smalls to be killed, Gumbs-Carty said.

Merrifield left and returned to McLean's house with James, who was holding a handgun, pacing back and forth, crying, angry about the death of his friend, Gumbs-Carty said.

James and Merrifield left and returned a short time later with a third man, but this time, James was armed with a machine gun wrapped in a sheet, Gumbs-Carty told the jury. McLean and her boyfriend left the house and spent the night at Paradise Point, Gumbs-Carty said. When McLean and her boyfriend returned to the house the following day around 1 p.m., they discovered Edwards' body in their yard, according to Gumbs-Carty.

Edwards had been shot in the vagina, right leg and back, Gumbs-Carty said.

An eyewitness, Alphaeus Lettsome gave Edwards a ride back to McLean's house, Gumbs-Carty said. When Edwards got out of the car, she was met by a man with a gun who walked with her to the house, Gumbs-Carty said.

Another man stood beside Lettsome's car with a long gun wrapped in a sheet and asked Lettsome what he was doing with that girl, Gumbs-Carty said. Lettsome drove off and the man shot at the truck, with one of the bullets hitting Lettsome in the leg and the others striking the hood of his vehicle, according to Gumbs-Carty.

"We ask you to listen to everyone attentively, to view the exhibits and ask you to come back with a guilty verdict for Nesta James and Denalson Merrifield," Gumbs-Carty told jurors.

James' attorney, Alan Teague, came up with at least two theories and several people who could have had motives for killing Edwards.

The night Smalls was shot, Edwards spoke to police on the scene, telling them that five men at the club were giving Smalls "bad vibes," and Smalls went outside with Edwards, Teague said. The men followed them outside, then shot and killed Smalls, according to Teague.

Edwards reported to police on June 24, 2009, that she had been abducted at gunpoint and forced into a vehicle, Teague said. She said that as she was walking in Smith Bay late one night, a car pulled up alongside her, and a man stuck a gun out and told her to get into the car, Teague said. When she got in, another man was inside the vehicle pointing a gun at her, according to Teague. She was able to open the door, and they pushed her out of the moving vehicle, Teague told the jury.

Later, when Edwards spoke to police, she identified one of the men from a photo array

"I present to you that the government will be unable to prove their case. At the end, you'll find both defendants innocent of these charges," Teague said.

Joseph DiRuzzio, attorney for Merrifield, opted not to give an opening statement.

The case, presided over by V.I. Superior Court Judge Michael Dunston, continues today.

- Contact reporter Corliss Smithen at 774-8772 ext. 302 or e-mail csmithen@dailynews.vi

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