3rd defendant in police officer's murder moves for pretrial release

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ST. CROIX - V.I. Superior Court Senior Sitting Judge Darryl Donohue Sr. heard a third motion for release on behalf of one of the defendants charged in connection with the 2001 torture and murder of V.I. Police Officer Wendell Williams.

Of the five individuals charged almost two years ago in connection with the crime, four remain jailed.

The five defendants - Maximiliano Velasquez III, 38; Juan Velasquez, 29; Jose Ventura, 41; Jose Rivera Jr., 39; and Sharima Clercent, 32 - have been charged with first-degree murder in connection with Williams' disappearance and death.

Clercent, the only woman in the group, has since met bail after a reduction in the bail amount, while the other defendants remain in the custody of the V.I. Corrections Bureau.

On Thursday morning, Public Defender Hannibal O'Bryan made arguments to the court in support of his previously submitted motion to the court seeking pre-trial release on behalf of Maximiliano Velasquez III.

Earlier this month, attorneys for two other defendants - Juan Velasquez and Jose Ventura - filed similar motions seeking pre-trial release.

At the crux of the defense arguments for the defendants' release are the prosecution's repeated motions for continuances and the length of time when the case was not assigned to any particular assistant attorney general, causing proceedings to stall as the men languish in jail.

On Thursday, O'Bryan said his client should not be considered a flight risk or a danger to the community and asked the court to allow Maximiliano Velasquez to be released from prison to the third-party custodianship of a family friend. In addition to the standard conditions of release, they would also not be opposed to Maximiliano Velasquez being put on a 24-hour curfew with an electronic monitoring device.

O'Bryan previously had submitted a motion to dismiss the case against Maximiliano Velasquez, and Donohue ordered from the bench that the prosecution should respond to that motion in writing by Dec. 31.

Last week, on Dec. 11, defense attorney Vincent Colliani III made his arguments in support of a written motion asking the court to release Juan Velasquez from jail while the case is pending.

Colliani said Juan Velasquez is not a flight risk or a danger to the community and had voluntarily surrendered himself to police when he heard that he had been sought two years ago. Colliani said Juan Velasquez has strong family ties, including three children who miss him, and he also asked for house arrest with the use of an electronic monitoring device.

On Dec. 9, defense attorney Daniel Cevallos made oral arguments in support of a motion for release on behalf of Ventura.

Cevallos said he moved for the release because of a number of changed conditions. He said his client had been incarcerated since February 2012, and since then, there have been changes in prosecutors as well as trial delays, which violate Ventura's right to an expedited trial.

Cevallos said Ventura has strong family ties and is not a flight risk or a threat to the community.

Assistant Attorney General Kippy Roberson, who was assigned to the case earlier this month, has objected to the motions for release for each of the men.

Donohue has reserved action on the three motions for pretrial release, and he said the decision on the motions is the type he would typically put in writing. Donohue said he will issue his written order some time soon in all three cases.

A motion seeking pretrial release on behalf of Rivera also is expected but has not yet been scheduled.

Donohue may be delaying his order until after a hearing on a motion for release on behalf of Rivera to hand down a blanket order that would cover all four defendants.

The trial has now been set to take place, beginning with jury selection Jan. 21, and Roberson said he has every intention of going forward at that time.

According to police records and statements made in court, the prosecution contends that the defendants kidnapped Williams, an 18-year veteran of the police department, on June 14, 2001, and took him to an abandoned building at the old South Grapetree Bay Resort on St. Croix's east end, where he was tortured and fatally shot.

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

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