Jury begins deliberations in St. Croix murder trial


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ST. CROIX - Jurors will continue their deliberations today in the V.I. Superior Court murder trial of Elijah Ritter, charged in a 2013 murder north of Frederiksted town.

Ritter is charged with first-degree murder; first-degree assault; third-degree assault; unauthorized possession of a firearm; carrying a dangerous weapon during the commission of a violent crime; failure to report a firearm brought into the territory; possession of ammunition and first-degree reckless endangerment in connection with the pre-dawn shooting death of Sheldon Phillips July 7, 2013.

July selection took place Monday, and by Wednesday afternoon, jurors had heard all of the testimony in the case and heard closing arguments from attorneys on both sides and received their final instructions from V.I. Superior Court Presiding Judge Michael Dunston. Jurors began deliberating just before 3 p.m. Wednesday, and about two hours later, they sent a note to the judge, saying that they needed more time to review the evidence in the case but wanted to recess for the night.

Dunston said the jurors had also asked the court to review portions of the video statement the lone eyewitness made to police, and he said they will be accommodated with that request when court resumes today.

During the course of the week Assistant Attorney General Kip Roberson, who is prosecuting the case with Assistant Attorney General Heather Baker, presented witnesses, including forensic technicians, firearm expert, the medical examiner, V.I. Police officers and Phillips' cousin, who was with Phillips the night of the shooting.

During his testimony, Phillips' cousin, Dexter Swanston, testified that he and Phillips were leaving a big house party and Phillips had to maneuver the truck to get out of their parking spot. He said Ritter then came by and was giving Phillips directions on how to get out of the spot, and Phillips got irritated and told Ritter that he did not need any assistance, Swanston said.

Swanston testified that the two men began to argue, and just as Swanston was trying to calm Phillips down, he heard shots ring out. He said he saw the muzzle blast from the firearm but did not see where the gun was pulled from or how the three shots - including one to Phillips head - were fired.

The defense presented one witness, who testified that he was working at the function and heard shots ring out in the area but said he could tell the shots came from multiple firearms and not just one.

Ritter remains jailed pending the outcome of the trial.

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

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