Judge nixes requests to overturn murder conviction

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ST. CROIX - Senior Sitting District Judge Raymond Finch has denied motions seeking acquittal made on behalf of two men based on allegations of juror misconduct, mishandling of evidence and lack of evidence during their trials.

Kalif Flanders and Gillian Harper both were found guilty by a federal jury in August 2011 of beating and killing Luis Orlando Encarnacion in 2010 behind Evelyn Williams Elementary School on St. Croix.

Harper, 36, and Flanders, 26, were sentenced to life in prison for their roles in the slaying of the 22 year old that took place on the morning of May 13, 2010, as children were gathering for the school day.

Emile Henderson III has been representing Flanders, and Anthony Kiture has been representing Harper while the case has been prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Alphonso Andrews.

According to the prosecution's case, Flanders went to Encarnacion's house in Mount Pleasant the morning of the murder and accompanied him to the field behind the school.

It was in that field, prosecutors successfully argued, that Flanders and Harper beat Encarnacion with a sharp object - within sight of children in the school yard - before dragging him into the bush and putting a bullet into his brain.

In their joint motion for judgement of acquittal, both men argued that the prosecution presented insufficient evidence to support their convictions on any of the charges. However, Finch disagreed.

On June 3, the court held a hearing where evidence was introduced and testimony was heard, including from the two jurors whose conduct and responses to questions during the selections process was being questioned.

Harper first asserts that the jury foreman - juror number six - was biased against the defendants because he knew the victim's grandfather and concealed the fact from the court.

Finch, however, noted the jurors were only asked if they new the victims sister or mother, because they were witnesses in the case. In June, Finch wrote, the juror testified that he knew the victim's grandfather and great uncle, and also knew - by sight but not personally - the victim's other great uncle. The juror said he had not spoken to them in years and did not know of the connection to the deceased until the trial.

"Defendants did not establish that he actually had heard of the murder, nor did they establish that he actually knew or concealed knowledge of the witnesses in the case about whom he was asked," Finch's wrote in his order.

In his motion, Harper next asserts that a new trial is necessary because juror number one concealed that three of her family members were victims of gun crimes, and that the bias presumed as a result of this concealment necessitates a new trial.

Finch disagreed, noting the question asked before the trial to the jurors was if "anyone in your family, or a close relative, may have been a victim of a crime involving the use of a weapon?"

He said the juror in question testified that she did not hear that question and that while her uncle and two cousins had been murdered in separate incidents, they were not close to her. Finch noted that she said was young when they were killed and she had not known of their murders first hand, but only from hearing stories.

Finch noted that in light of her testimony, he did not find her responses to be dishonest.

In his separate motions to the court, Flanders asserted that a cell phone recovered from the crime scene was admitted into evidence in error and that such and error constituted a miscarriage of justice such that a new trial is warranted.

According to Flanders, V.I. Police Detective Dino Herbert did not follow proper procedures with the phone and that he held onto in his desk drawer for several days before sending it away from processing.

Flanders contended that because the phone was mishandled it should not have been admitted in evidence.

He also asserted that the government's conduct in requesting to reopen its case in the presence of the jury "affected the fundamental fairness of the trial" and thus the "usual remedy granted to overcome such conduct is a new trial.

Finch, in his order, said that he disagreed, because the request to reopen the case was not granted and there was no explanation from the prosecution in front of the jury as to why they wanted to take such actions.

The men remain jailed in the custody of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

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

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