Attorneys for 4 men accused in jewelry store robbery protest clients' continued detention


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ST. THOMAS - Attorneys for four of the men arrested in connection with the armed robbery of the Imperial jewelry store in downtown Charlotte Amalie are accusing prosecutors of unfairly dragging out their clients' detention.

The defendants, who were arrested the same day of a March 22 robbery along with two boys, have now been through three separate sets of initial hearings.

However, the charges keep changing for each new hearing, forcing the defendants to remain detained, according to their attorneys.

"I'm just stunned," said federal public defender Gabriel Villegas. "I don't appreciate the government's conduct at all."

Initially, all four men were advised of their rights in V.I. Superior Court in March and faced a slew of local charges, including first-degree robbery; unauthorized possession of a firearm; aiding and abetting; possession of stolen property; first-degree assault; and unlawful discharge of a firearm. Their bail was set at $100,000.

Yet, the charges did not end there for Shaquim Fredericks, 19; Warkim Gabriel, 18; Chefton Newton, 25; and Alvin Thomas, 18, when federal authorities unexpectedly decided to also press charges April 3.

The defendants who posted bail set by Superior Court, then were told that they could not be released. Instead, all four were remanded into the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service and were informed the following day that in addition to the local charges, they faced federal charges of violating the Hobbs Act.

The Hobbs Act involves the delay or obstruction of commerce or the movement of a commodity by robbery and typically is applied to bank robberies.

At a detention hearing in federal court Thursday, District Magistrate Judge Ruth Miller reduced the bail for each man to $50,000, which the U.S. Attorney's Office opposed. Miller allowed the prosecution, represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Everard Potter, through 9 a.m. Monday to appeal her decision.

On Monday, Potter presented the court with a new indictment, which included a new charge, using a firearm during a crime of violence, for the defendants. The new indictment forced Miller to reschedule a new advice-of-rights hearing for Wednesday.

"Imagine what this court is going to face in the future," Villegas said, noting that it should not be allowed for the prosecution to keep changing the charges. "It throws judicial economy out the window."

Attorneys Russell Pate, representing Newton, and Mike Sheesley, representing Fredericks, said it also would be difficult to again have to produce the third-party custodians.

Attorney Yohana Manning, who represents Gabriel, was not present Monday in court, though Sheesley was there on Manning's behalf for the proceeding.

The status of the boys' cases is not known, as the court is required to protect the identity of minors in all cases.

While V.I. Police reported a seventh man was involved in the robbery, in which about $1 million worth of goods was taken, the police have not announced any subsequent arrests in connection with the case.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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