Attorneys for 5 accused of killing, dismembering VIPD officer Lazee Williams file motions before trial
Published: January 10, 2014
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ST. CROIX - A week and a half before the murder trial of five people accused of torturing and killing V.I. Police Cpl. Wendell "Lazee" Williams is set to begin, attorneys on Thursday argued a variety motions, including whether certain words will be allowed during the trial.
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 more than a decade ago, on June 14, 2001.
The prosecution contends that 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 lifeless body then dismembered with a buzz saw.
Williams' body never was found. The prosecution's case is based on witness accounts and other evidence.
Attorneys on Thursday hashed out their positions on a number of motions, including a defense motion to preclude the use of the words "the commission" in reference to the defendants, and "the victim" and "the deceased" in reference to Williams.
The question of whether a death certificate for Williams would be allowed into evidence at trial also was discussed on Thursday, along with the desire of defense attorneys to question a woman who provided a detailed statement to investigators about witnessing Williams' murder about her potential drug use.
Attorney Jomo Meade, who represents Clercent, said that although there is information in documents the prosecution provided indicating that the witness may have told investigators she consumed drugs on the same day she said she saw the murder, there is no indication that she was asked what drugs or how much.
Because her testimony may be used to implicate his client in the crime, Meade said he wants to question the witness before trial on her drug use.
Other attorneys joined in that motion.
Attorney Daniel Cevallos is representing Ventura; Public Defender Hannibal O'Bryan is representing Maximiliano Velasquez; attorney Vincent Colianni Jr. is representing Juan Velasquez; 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, 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.
Roberson said during Thursday's hearing that he had provided defense attorneys with all the discovery in his possession, and to his knowledge, the investigator had not asked the witness how much of what drugs she may have been using the day she says she saw the murder.
Senior Sitting Judge Darryl Donohue Sr. directed Roberson to set up an opportunity before trial for defense attorneys to ask the witness - who was identified only as the "Source of Information" or "SOI" - about her drug use that day.
Roberson said he would make contact with her handler - she is in protective custody - and try to make the arrangements. However, Roberson said that the witness is not required to answer the question.
Cevallos' motions to preclude the use of the words "the victim" and "the deceased" in reference to Williams during the trial led to a discussion on whether the death certificate - which was obtained by Williams' sister in a civil proceeding after he had not been seen for several years and was presumed dead - would be allowed into evidence.
Defense attorneys contended there should be no presumption that Williams is dead and that the document could unfairly prejudice the jury.
Donohue said he would not allow the use of the words "the victim" to refer to Williams - but that, depending on the evidence presented, he may allow the use of the words "the deceased."
As for the death certificate, the judge said he would allow attorneys to write briefs on the issue and did not make a ruling.
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."
"I don't plan to get into allegations of other crimes, but I have to get into evidence that they worked together as a unit for some time," he said, noting that aiding and abetting is a component of the charges.
Roberson said part of the evidence he intends to present is that the defendants called themselves "the commission," which he said shows they worked together.
Cevallos and other attorneys said the words "the commission" imply organized crime and would unfairly prejudice the jury.
"The term in this territory carries a connotation of a group of individuals involved in organized criminal activity - violent criminal activity," Donohue said.
Roberson said he did not intend to engage in calling the defendants names but said he does intend to present a witness who will testify that the defendants called themselves "the commission."
Donohue said his decision about whether he will allow use of the words "the commission" at trial would depend on what the witness said.
Attorneys also argued a motion to suppress a photo identification.
Attorneys said they expect the trial to last two to three weeks.
Jury selection is scheduled for Jan. 21, and once the jury is empaneled, the plan is to proceed immediately with trial, Donohue said.
- Contact Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or email email@example.com.