Attorney general confident in lone lawyer's ability to prove guilt of 5 defendants accused of murdering St. Croix police officer
Published: January 20, 2014
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ST. CROIX - The long-awaited murder trial of five people accused of torturing and killing V.I. Police Cpl. Wendell "Lazee" Williams more than 12 years ago is set to begin Tuesday and V.I. Justice Department officials and Williams' family say they have the utmost confidence that justice will be served despite the lone assistant attorney general that will face an attorney for each of the five defendants.
Maximiliano Velasquez III, Juan Velasquez, Jose Ventura, Jose Rivera Jr. and Sharima Clercent are facing first-degree murder charges in the case.
Williams disappeared after he got off work on June 14, 2001.
The prosecution contends the defendants kidnapped Williams and took him to an abandoned building at the former South Grapetree Bay Resort on the East End, where he was tortured and fatally shot, his body then dismembered with a buzz saw.
Williams' body never was found and the prosecution's case is based on witness accounts and other evidence.
Attorney Daniel Cevallos is representing Ventura; public defender Hannibal O'Bryan is representing Maximiliano Velasquez; attorney Vincent Colianni Jr. is representing Juan Velasquez; attorney Jomo Meade and attorney Gordon Rhea is representing Rivera.
Although the high-profile case involving the murder of an 18-year veteran of the V.I. Police Department is complex and involves five defendants and five seasoned defense attorneys and their investigators, the V.I. Attorney General's Office has assigned a single attorney, Assistant Attorney General Kippy Roberson, to the case with no co-counsel.
Roberson was assigned to the case in December.
Friday, Attorney General Vincent Frazier said that he is not at all worried.
"Attorney Roberson is one of my more experienced attorneys and while he is coming in on the tail end and wrapping up the case, he has not been the only person working on the case," he said.
Frazier said other attorneys and staff have been working on putting things together on the case and Roberson is getting whatever support he needs.
"I am very confident in the work that has been done and in attorney Roberson's abilities," he said. "I am confident that he will do well and that we have the evidence that is sufficient to ensure a conviction in this case."
"It has taken may years to get to this point, but it is important to say that this is the process at work," Frazier said. "We can not make arrests and get prosecutions as swiftly as you see on television in an hour."
Williams' sister Jaslene Williams said she is not at all concerned about what appears to be an unevenly matched prosecution. "It did cross my mind, but in the scheme of things, I'm not worried," she said.
Jaslene Williams, who has been the voice of the family in her brother's disappearance, said she had been getting updates from former Assistant Attorney General Tom Sedar, and when he left the office last year, the updates continued.
Williams said while she is confident in the evidence and Roberson's ability, she is anxiously awaiting closure in any form.
"Man can only do so much, but God is in control and I've kept Wendell's memory alive until now for us to get some justice for him," she said.
During a hearing earlier this month, attorneys argued motions to prohibit the use of some language and evidence.
In response to requests, Senior Sitting Judge Darryl Donohue Sr. directed Roberson to facilitate defense attorneys asking the key witness - who was identified only as the "Source of Information" or "SOI" - about her drug use that day.
Attorneys also asked to preclude the use of the words "the victim" and "the deceased" in reference to Williams during the trial contending there should be no presumption that Williams is dead.
The question of whether the prosecution intends to introduce evidence of uncharged crimes or wrongdoing led to the discussion on the use of the words "the commission."
Roberson said the discovery in the case is "filled with" mentions of other homicides, drug transactions and the co-defendants calling themselves "the commission" but he did not plan to get into allegation of other crimes but has to discuss evidence that the defendants worked as a unit.
Attorneys also argued a motion to suppress photo identification.
Attorneys said they expect the trial to last two to three weeks.
Jury selection is scheduled for Tuesday, and once the jury is empaneled, the plan is to proceed immediately with trial, according to Donohue.
- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.