Judge chastises but upholds prosecutors' tactics for keeping four men behind bars


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ST. THOMAS - Defense attorneys trying to obtain bail and conditions of pre-trial release for their clients - who are facing federal charges in connection with the March armed robbery of the Imperial Jewelry store on Main Street on St. Thomas - were unsuccessful Wednesday in District Court.

After their third detention hearing, this time in front of District Judge Curtis Gomez, Shaquim Fredericks, 19; Warkim Gabriel, 18; Chefton Newton, 25; and Alvin Thomas, 18, were remanded back into the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service, according to Joycelyn Hewlett, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The men previously had been granted bail by District Magistrate Judge Ruth Miller, but the U.S. Attorney's Office responded by taking the unusual step of filing new federal charges against them, effectively keeping them in jail.

The defendants' attorneys have taken issue with the way the case has been handled since the V.I. Police officers initially arrested the men March 22. To date, their clients have been through three advice-of-rights hearings and three detention hearings and have been granted bail on some of the charges they originally had faced.

Fredericks, Gabriel, Newton and Thomas first were advised of their rights when the V.I. government pressed local charges, which included first-degree robbery; unauthorized possession of a firearm; aiding and abetting; possession of stolen property; first-degree assault; and unlawful discharge of a firearm.

At least one of them met the conditions of release - a 20 percent bond and agreement to a third-party custodian and electronic monitoring - set in V.I. Superior Court.

However, early this month, the U.S. Attorney's Office took the case over from the V.I. Attorney General's Office, presenting the District Court with the federal charge 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.

When the case went before Miller, the prosecution appealed her decision to set conditions for release for the defendants - a $50,000 bail, as well as the requirement of a third-party custodian and electronic monitoring.

The U.S. Attorney's Office issued a statement last week in opposition to Miller's decision at the detention hearing and said it would file an appeal of the decision.

Additionally, Assistant U.S. Attorney Everard Potter also filed a new criminal complaint with the new charge of using a firearm during the commission of a violent crime, set into motion the need for a new detention hearing and a new criminal case.

As a result, Gomez on Wednesday was unsure of which case to pursue.

"Why is it that we are here in this posture with this case?" Gomez asked Potter, who ultimately said that the U.S. Attorney's Office had made a mistake in its first criminal complaint.

Gomez chastised the federal prosecutors' office and questioned whether the U.S. Attorney's Office had filed the complaint only because it did not like Miller's initial decision on the defendants' detention.

"Is there anything new that you learned since filing the initial complaint? Should the court be concerned that it's going to get another complaint tomorrow? And then another? Why are we doing it in this procedural approach?" Gomez asked.

However, none of the defense attorneys were able to clearly identify a statute that the federal prosecutor violated.

After Wednesday's detention hearing, Gomez denied the defendants' release. They are accused of stealing more than $1 million worth of jewels and goods from the Imperial Jewelers in downtown Charlotte Amalie, according to the criminal complaints that have been filed against them.

The complaints maintain that the defendants bore firearms, and that another man and two boys them. The two boys also were arrested March 22, but it is unclear whether they also are facing federal charges because they are minors.

V.I. Police have said they believe a seventh person also was involved in the daylight robbery of the jewelry store, but they have not reported an additional arrest.

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

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