Judge dismisses charges against St. Croix man in fatal shooting

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ST. CROIX - Two-and-a-half years ago, Leo Lubrin was arrested and faced first-degree murder among other charges that would have him spend the rest of his natural life in prison if convicted.

On Thursday, halfway through his jury trial, he walked away from V.I. Superior Court a free man after Judge Douglas Brady granted a motion to dismiss the case.

The jury selection and trial began Monday with Lubrin, 23, facing charges of first-degree murder; first-degree reckless endangerment; unauthorized use of a firearm during a violent crime; using a dangerous weapon during a violent crime; and failure to report a firearm brought into the Virgin Islands in connection with the Aug. 11, 2011, shooting death of 19-year-old Christopher Rice.

Just before 11 a.m. Thursday, Assistant Attorney General Joseph Ponteen advised the court and the jury that the prosecution had presented all of its witnesses and evidence and would rest its case.

Brady removed the jury from the courtroom to hear the arguments after defense attorney Michael Joseph made a routine motion for dismissal in the case on the grounds that the prosecution had not presented sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to convict Lubrin on the charges against him.

The arguments from both sides were heard at sidebar, outside the hearing of the jury and more than a dozen people who sat in the courtroom following the case.

As the attorneys left sidebar and returned to their seats, Joseph gave Lubrin a thumbs up and gestured a cutting of the throat to Lubrin's family sitting behind him before walking over to Lubrin and shaking his hands and congratulating him.

Lubrin's family and Rice's family - who had been attending the trial on a daily basis - had not yet realized what had occurred and sat, awaiting clarification.

Brady called the jurors to the courtroom and advised them that "because of legal reasons the case has been completely resolved," he said before dismissing them.

Once the jurors left, Brady announced that the motion for acquittal had been granted, Lubrin's bail was exonerated and all conditions of restraint against him were vacated and he was free to go.

One of Rice's family members, surprised by the announcement, leaped from his seat but was quieted by other family members. Outside the courtroom none of the family members wanted to comment on the judgement.

However, Lubrin and his family were elated.

They shared hugs and tears inside and outside the courtroom following the dismissal.

Joseph said being granted such a dismissal is rare but the circumstance in the case compelled the judge to rule as he did.

"This is a prime example of why people who have details of a crime scene should not make melee out of it and repeat things that they do not know," he said. "When they come to court and are forced to tell the truth, they really have no personal knowledge."

Ponteen said that "the witness refused to speak, so the judge has spoken and that is what it is."

Ponteen said when the prosecution's key witness, Shanika Tyson, took the witness stand and testified that she had never spoken to police about the murder and never saw the statement, they were not allowed to have the statement admitted as evidence, which led to the entire case crumbling.

The fatal blow to the case came Wednesday afternoon when Tyson testified that she lived in the area of the shooting and was watching television with her children when she heard gunshots ring out. She said they all dropped to the floor and stayed there.

She testified that she never looked out of her window and did not know that someone was shot or that it was Rice until her neighbor came knocking and told her.

On the stand, Tyson also denied having given a statement to police in the days immediately following the shooting and said that no one from the police department had ever questioned her about what she saw.

Tyson also testified that the case agent, V.I. Police Detective Kirk Fieulleteau propositioned her for sex when she called him to ask for money to buy a shirt and that Ponteen had threatened to jail her unless she agreed to corroborate a multi-page signed statement that she claimed she never signed.

During the trial, Fieulleteau testified that Tyson had contacted him shortly after Rice's murder and agreed to meet with him to give him information about the shooting.

While Tyson was on the witness stand, Ponteen presented a signed copy of her apartment lease. She admitted that the signatures on the lease and the police statement were comparable, but she still denied signing the statement.

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

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