Jury deliberations begin, stretch into today
Published: February 6, 2014
Font size: [A] [A] [A]
ST. CROIX - Jurors will return to the deliberation room this morning in their second day of reviewing the evidence in the V.I. Superior Court trial of three men charged in the 2001 murder of veteran V.I. Police Cpl. Wendell "Lazee" Williams.
Following just more than a week of testimony in the trial that wrapped up on Tuesday, jurors were given their final instructions and handed the case just before 11 a.m. Wednesday.
However, before the jury began deliberations, Senior Sitting Judge Darryl Donohue Sr. substituted one of the alternates for Juror 11 - who had a hard time staying awake during the trial. Four alternates still remain available for the case but are not part of the deliberations.
About 30 members of the defendants' families and other residents who had been following the case since last week lingered in the courtyard adjacent to the courtroom throughout the day, awaiting an indication from the deputy marshals that a verdict had been reached.
Throughout the day, the jurors sent two different notes to the judge for clarification on two issues, then continued their deliberations after remarks from the judge.
Family members of the defendants gathered in an empty courtroom and held a circle of prayer just before 5 p.m. as the afternoon came to a close when there was an indication that there was yet another note. They prayed for justice and an outcome favorable to the defendants.
However, the note was only to inform the judge that the jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict. At that point, Donohue allowed the jurors to recess for the day and ordered them to return at 9 a.m. today to resume their deliberations.
Maximiliano Velasquez III, Jose Ventura and Jose Rivera Jr. remain on trial, facing charges of aiding and abetting each other in committing first-degree murder and could spend the rest of their natural lives in prison if convicted.
Sharima Clercent and Juan Velasquez had begun the trial as defendants last week but charges against them were dismissed by the judge at the close of the prosecution's case Monday for lack of evidence.
The prosecution contends the defendants worked in concert to kidnap Williams some time after he got off work on June 14, 2001, and took him to an abandoned building at the former South Grapetree Bay Resort on the island's East End, where he was tortured and fatally shot before his body was dismembered and thrown out to sea and was never found.
In February 2012, police arrested the defendants, who remain jailed and unable to satisfy bail conditions.
Jury selection in the case began Jan. 21 and lasted a week. When testimony began last week, the jury heard from Wendell Williams' sister and a friend, who confirmed the dates that he last was seen and when he was reported missing.
They also heard from Theresa Coogle, the prosecution's key witness, who testified that she saw the torture. Coogle said she witnessed Williams' murder specifically by Rivera, Ventura and other unknown individuals and that she and Clercent were ordered to clean up the blood after the disposal of Williams' body.
Coogle spent two full days on the witness stand and has admitted to extensive drug use that began after 2001, and her statements to police during the years since Williams' disappearance are riddled with inconsistencies.
FBI Special Agent Donald Kidd also testified, saying he took Coogle's initial statement and made a site-visit with her to the South Grapetree Bay Resort in 2002 before the case became inactive.
The prosecution called two convicted felons, Jimmy Davis and his brother, Hector Davis, to the stand, who both denied having any conversations with FBI agents about witnessing Williams while he was held hostage by Rivera. Jimmy Davis also testified that FBI agents tried to get him to lie and say that Rivera admitted to the murder.
FBI Special Agents Clifford Goodman and Kimberly Quesinberry testified for the prosecution to the contrary. Goodman also said that based on discussions with Elton Lewis, who was the V.I. Police commissioner at the time of Williams' disappearance, there was a widely held public perception of police corruption and police involvement in the murder.
Jurors also heard additional testimony from the case agent, V.I. Police Detective Frankie Ortiz, and forensic technician George Felix, who testified that once the investigation reconvened in 2011, he was sent to Grapetree Bay to process the scene and found no trace of DNA evidence.
The defense presented five witnesses, including two of Rivera's sisters, who testified that he had been shot six months before the time the prosecution said the murder occurred and had undergone a second surgery just days before and was in excruciating pain.
The defense also presented Velasquez's sister and Coogle's sister, who both testified that Coogle was not living on St. Croix in June of 2001 and was living in Miami.
The lone prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Kip Roberson, brought no evidence to rebut those claims as the trial closed out and the jury was handed the case.
- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email email@example.com.