2nd man charged with murder in St. Croix robbery gone wrong pleads no contest

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ST. CROIX - The second of two men arrested almost five years ago in connection with a botched robbery that led to the murder of their friend in Annaly Farms appeared in V.I. Superior Court on Wednesday and pleaded no contest to the charges against him.

Deshawn Nelson and Jabari White, both 23, of Estate Grove Place were charged with first-degree murder; first-degree reckless endangerment; first-degree assault; and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence in the case where prosecutors charged that the two, along with Titus Jauni, all went to carry out the robbery and Jauni was accidentally shot.

The case went to trial last June, and after a week of testimony and two days of deliberations, a Superior Court jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict, resulting in a mistrial.

Since the retrial was scheduled, Nelson opted to avoid a second jury trial and accepted a plea offer in November.

A retrial for White was set to begin Monday, but White opted to follow a similar path to Nelson's and appeared before V.I. Superior Court Judge Douglas Brady on Wednesday.

White entered an Alford Plea - a special provision of the law that allows him to plead guilty while maintaining his innocence, saying that he is pleading guilty because he realizes that the evidence against him is such that a reasonable jury could find him guilty although he is not - to the charges of first-degree assault and first-degree reckless endangerment.

As provided in the plea agreement read into the record by Attorney Michael Joseph, the prosecution will file motions to dismiss the remaining charges against him.

In the agreement, prosecutors agree to recommend to the court that White be sentenced to no more than five years on each of the charges against him and that he be given credit for the time he has already served in Golden Grove - in excess of four years - since his initial arrest days after the robbery on Aug. 31, 2009.

Nelson, who is represented by attorney Sunshine Benoit, entered a similar Alford Plea in November and entered a guilty plea to the charges of first-degree assault and possession of a dangerous weapon during the commission of a crime of violence. In exchange, prosecutors dismissed the other charges against him.

The parties agreed that he would be sentenced to 10 years in prison, but he would have to serve the mandatory sentence of 7½ years associated with the weapon charge.

Prosecutors contend that the two men, along with 20-year-old Jauni, aided and abetted each other in the robbery of the Annaly Farms store.

According to an affidavit filed by V.I. Police Lt. Dino Herbert, an employee of Annaly Farms said that about 2 p.m. Aug. 31, 2009, three men came into the store wearing dark clothing and dark sunglasses with their faces covered.

The employee told police that Jauni pulled out a gun and fired a single shot into the air, hitting a light fixture before the bullet ricocheted and injured him, according to Herbert's affidavit.

During the trial, Assistant Attorney General Joseph Ponteen said the medical examiner's report showed the bullet that struck Jauni in the back was from one of his accomplices, who was standing behind him. The bullet exited Jauni's chest and lodged in a freezer across the room, according to forensic reports.

Sentencing for White has been scheduled for 10 a.m. August 27. Nelson's sentencing previously was scheduled for April 16 but has since been continued without a new date.

- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email fstokes@dailynews.vi.

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