Courtroom disruptions force removal of jury 3 times as uncooperative witnesses stymie prosecution's progress
Published: February 1, 2014
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ST. CROIX - The prosecution's attempts to present two jailed felons as witnesses Friday in the trial of five people charged in the 2001 murder of veteran V.I. Police Cpl. Wendell "Lazee" Williams became a game of musical chairs with jurors being sent into and out of the courtroom, multiple side-bar meetings with the judge and a closed hearing with one of the felons before he was escorted out of the courtroom and the second convict later was brought in to testify.
Maximiliano Velasquez III; Juan Velasquez; Jose Ventura; Jose Rivera Jr.; and Sharima Clercent are facing charges of aiding and abetting each other in committing first-degree murder in the case that is being heard before V.I. Superior Court Senior Sitting Judge Darryl Donohue.
The prosecution contends the defendants kidnapped Williams some time after he got off work on June 14, 2001, 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 before his body was dismembered and thrown out to sea and was never found.
Close to 12 years later, police made arrests, extraditing Rivera from Georgia and arresting the other defendants on St. Croix. With the exception of Clercent, the defendants remain jailed unable to satisfy the bail conditions.
On Friday, Assistant Attorney General Kip Roberson called Jimmy Davis to the stand right after lunch with the intention of calling Davis' brother, Hector Davis, as well.
On three separate occasions, the jury had to be removed from the courtroom: First, when Jimmy Davis refused to testify without his attorney present; then when Hector Davis did the same from the stand; and finally, when Jimmy Davis started to give his version of the story relative to jury tampering charges brought against him last week during the jury selection process.
In regard to the jury tampering charges, Jimmy Davis currently is being detained at Golden Grove Adult Correctional Facility on $10,000 bail.
Each time there was a disruption on Friday, the jurors were removed, attorneys went to a side-bar with the judge, who called a recess for several minutes.
When Jimmy Davis finally began to testify, he said he knows Jose Rivera as "PD" and identified him in court.
Roberson then asked Davis whether he remembers talking to Rivera in 2001 about having a gun or whether he remembers talking to federal agents about anything Rivera had told him about a firearm.
"No sir, they wanted me to lie on 'PD' to say he commit a crime," Davis answered.
Roberson followed up, asking whether Davis talked to "PD" about killing Wendell Williams and whether Davis talked to the FBI about it. Davis responded no to both questions, then said FBI special agent Clifford Goodman was trying to get him to say that Rivera told him that he killed Williams because they were going to use Williams' vehicle to carry out another crime.
When questioned by Roberson, Davis denied saying that Rivera told him that Williams was kidnapped when he was out jogging or that Rivera killed him but did not initially know Williams was a police officer. Davis said he never gave a signed statement with that information to federal agents either or told the agents that if they spoke to Hector Davis, Hector Davis would have more information. "No man, I never tell them any of that," Davis said.
On cross-examination, Rivera's attorney, Gordon Rhea, asked Davis whether the federal agents he spoke with made any promises to him.
Davis said he was promised that if he testified against Rivera, they would release him early from prison. Davis said he completed his most recent federal prison sentence last November.
When Goodman took the stand, he testified on direct examination by Roberson that Jimmy Davis was transferred to a prison in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, for his safety while serving a sentence at Golden Grove in 2004. That was when Davis told agents that Rivera told him about the reasons why Williams was kidnapped, Goodman testified.
Goodman said Davis did not want his attorney to know that he was speaking to the agents, because he said he and Rivera had the same attorney at that time, and Davis was afraid the attorney would tell Rivera what Davis had said.
Rhea asked Goodman why there is no documentation of the interview with Davis, and Goodman said it is against the bureau's policy to voice or video record interviews and Davis refused to sign the written statement that he gave.
FBI special agent Kimberly Quesinberry testified about a similar encounter with Davis with the same results.
On cross-examination, Daniel Cevallos, who represents Jose Ventura, asked Goodman why the federal authorities got involved in a case that already was being pursued by the local police.
Goodman said that based on discussions with Elton Lewis, who was the V.I. Police commissioner at the time, there was a widely held public perception of police corruption. Goodman said he learned during discussions with local investigators that two days before his disappearance, Williams had made allegations that two officers recovered a handgun during a traffic stop and did not turn it in as evidence.
Earlier in the day, jurors had heard additional testimony from the case agent, V.I. Police Detective Frankie Ortiz, who had begun his testimony Thursday afternoon.
One of the points defense attorneys focused on during their questioning was how Ortiz failed to confirm whether it was possible for a boat to come close to shore in the shallow water.
Ortiz testified that it did not cross his mind to engage the officers of the V.I. Police Department's Marine Unit to assist in that aspect of the investigation.
Forensic technician George Felix also testified on Friday, only to say that once the investigation reconvened in 2011, he was sent to the Grapetree Bay location to process the scene. He said he took samples and swabs of items that he thought may have had evidential value and sent them away for DNA testing, but they all came back with negative traces.
"It was not a surprise to me, because 10 years in that building, open to the elements, I did not expect anything to last," Felix said. "I hoped and prayed we would get something, but I didn't expect anything."
Jurors have heard testimony so far from Wendell Williams' sister and a friend who confirmed the dates that he last was seen and when he was reported missing.
They also have heard from Theresa Coogle, the prosecution's key witness, who testified that she saw the torture and murder specifically by Rivera, Ventura and other unknown individuals and that she and Clercent were ordered to clean up the blood following the disposal of Williams' body.
Coogle has admitted extensive drug use that began after 2001 and her statements to police during the years since Williams' disappearance are rife with inconsistencies.
FBI agent Donald Kidd also has testified, about taking Coogle's initial statement and making a site-visit with her in 2002 before the case became inactive.
The trial will go into its second week on Monday.
- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.