Defendant seeks bail in Williams slaying


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ST. CROIX - Presiding V.I. Superior Court Judge Darryl Donohue Sr. is expected to hand down an order in a matter of days that will grant or deny a motion for release by one of 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, while the other defendants remain in the custody of the Bureau of Corrections.

On Monday, defense attorney Daniel Cevallos made oral arguments in support of his motion for release on behalf of Ventura that had been filed months ago.

He said he moved for the release because of a number of changed conditions, including the prosecution's repeated requests for continuances in the case. He said his client had been incarcerated since February of 2012 - 22 months today - and since then there has been changes in prosecutors and delays, in violation of Ventura's right to an expedited trial.

Cevallos said Ventura has lived on St. Croix since he was 4 years old and has strong family ties to the community. Cevallos said Ventura is not a flight risk because he had been a person of interest to law enforcement officers from shortly after Williams' disappearance in 2001 and never ran.

Cevallos said Ventura also is not a danger to the community and has no prior convictions.

Assistant Attorney General Kippy Roberson was assigned to the case Friday, taking over from another attorney who had left the office months ago. Roberson objected to the motion for release saying that despite the continuances, there had not been a change of circumstances, and it had been determined during the preliminary detention hearing that the presumption is great that the defendant did commit the crimes as charged.

Roberson said while there had not been any specific allegation of witness tampering against Ventura, other co-defendants had reportedly made attempts to intimidate witnesses, and if Ventura is not in jail, it makes it easier for him to contact witnesses.

Donohue told Roberson that the rules entitle the defendant to an expedited trial after they are detained, and being granted a detention motion does not mean that the person is detained infinitely.

"You deprived the defendant of his liberties for a long time," he said. "You can not snatch up someone and detain them without their day in court. You've proffered nothing that this defendant did anything, but you want me to continue his detention on ifs and supposes."

Donohue said the prosecution's last motion for continuance, which was denied, asked for a continuance until March, until they got a new attorney on board and up to speed while Ventura would have sat vegetating in a detention facility, which should not happen.

The judge said 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.

The trial has since 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.

Cevallos' final plea to the court was that his client had spent enough time detained unjustly. He said house arrest would still be under constant supervision of the court, so essentially, there would be no risk involved.

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.

According to police records and statements made in court, the prosecution contends that the defendants kidnapped Williams on June 14, 2001, and took him to an abandoned building at the old South Grapetree Bay Resort far on St. Croix's east end, where he was tortured and fatally shot.

Williams, an 18-year veteran of the V.I. Police Department, disappeared on June 14, 2001. On June 25, 2001, police found his vehicle, a black and silver 2001 Suzuki Vitara, burned in a remote area in Estate Castle Burke, causing police to upgrade the case from a missing person search to a criminal investigation.

A confidential informant has told police that William's may have been killed because he touched guns or drugs that he shouldn't have touched or that he had discovered the operation and was about to report it, according to Detective Frankie Ortiz's probable cause fact sheet for the defendants' arrest.

A hearing on a motion for release for Juan Velasquez has been scheduled for Dec. 11.

- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email fstokes@dailynews.vi.

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