Another defendant in murder of St. Croix police officer petitions for pretrial release


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ST. CROIX - V.I. Superior Court Presiding Judge Darryl Donohue Sr. on Wednesday reserved action on a motion for release made on behalf of a second defendant among the five people arrested almost two years ago in connection with the 2001 torture and murder of V.I. Police Officer Wendell Williams.

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 Wednesday morning, 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 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. He said Velasquez has strong family ties, including three children who miss him.

Colliani said Juan Velasquez has one prior contact with the criminal justice system, in which he was convicted in 2003 on a second-degree assault charge, but he has already served his debt and has not been in any trouble with the courts since then.

Juan Velasquez does not have any liquid or real property assets to post to secure his release on bail, according to Colliani, who also said if Juan Velasquez is released from prison, his family would be willing and able to raise the money to provide the financial obligation of an electronic monitoring device if Juan Velasquez is placed on house arrest.

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

Cevallos said he moved for the release because of a number of changed conditions, including the prosecution's repeated requests for continuances in the case. Cevallos 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 last week, objected to the motion for Ventura's release.

However, Donohue said during Monday's hearing that the prosecution and law enforcement had more than 10 years between when the crime was committed and when arrests were made, and they already should have done all of their investigation to be ready to go forward to trial in an expedited manner but had not done so.

The trial has been scheduled for Jan. 21, and Roberson said that gives him six weeks before the trial and he plans to go forward at that time.

Donohue said the decision on the motion is the type he would typically put in writing so he will do that and issue his written order some time this week in both cases.

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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