Jury finds 4 men guilty in Imperial Jewelers robbery

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ST. THOMAS - All four men on trial for the armed robbery of the Imperial Jewelry Store were convicted by a federal jury late Wednesday afternoon.

Shaquim Fredericks, 19; Warkim Gabriel, 18; Alvin Thomas, 19; and Chefton Newton, 26, all of St. Thomas, were convicted of interference with commerce by robbery; conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery; and conspiracy to use a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence.

"Did these defendants do it? The answer is yes," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelly Lake, who prosecuted the case.

According to the evidence presented at trial, about 9:40 a.m. on March 15, seven masked individuals entered Imperial Jewelry Store on Main Street in downtown Charlotte Amalie and robbed the store of more than $1 million worth of jewelry.

Some of the robbers displayed firearms and could be seen on video surveillance footage pointing them at the shop employees.

The footage showed that almost all of the robbers shoved jewelry into bags, some of them appearing to use their firearms to break the display cases open. Others used a hammer and a wrench.

After about 90 seconds inside the store, all seven individuals fled.

Shortly thereafter, V.I. Police officers found six suspects, including the four defendants, hiding in the thick bush in the area of Fireburn Hill.

Two of the arrestees were 17, and their identities and status of their proceedings have been protected because they are minors. It is unclear whether the convictions of the four defendants in District Court could affect the cases of the two minors.

Authorities have made no mention of whether they have identified a seventh suspect.

When police made the initial arrests, they discovered a significant amount of jewelry, three firearms and clothing in the bush near where the defendants were hiding.

During the trial, Lake exhibited a lump of clothes - including shirts, shoes, gloves and masks - that the defendants had worn during the heist, she said.

Defense attorneys argued that the DNA of their individual clients had not been found in any of the attire, including in the full face masks and the gloves.

Lake said that the fact that some of the defendants were wearing stocking caps explained why no hair was matched to the defendants in the masks, and the fact that they were wearing gloves explained why no fingerprints were found on the firearms.

"They ditched their clothes. They ditched their shoes. They ditched their bags," Lake said, noting that the defendants were the only people who officers found in the area to which the suspects were seen fleeing.

"We found their loot. We found their clothes. We found them," Lake said.

Defense attorneys insisted that their clients were innocent, painting the prosecution's case as lacking in direct evidence.

"This was the perfect crime, where you get away with the loot, and someone else takes the blame," said Yohanna Manning, attorney for Gabriel, who was found with Fredericks, represented by attorney Michael Sheesley.

Both defendants told their attorneys that they simply had been hiding in the bush because they had heard shots fired, and they planned on planting marijuana in the bush together.

Thomas, represented by Federal Public Defender Gabriel Villegas, maintained his innocence as well, though police presented a statement written by an officer but relaying the words of Thomas, who recalled the entire incident to the officer.

Villegas questioned why the officer had not recorded Thomas's words to police and why they did not have him write the statement for himself.

Newton, who was pictured wearing a stocking over his head when he was arrested, had his liberty taken away just on the basis that he had been near Fireburn Hill, he had been near a pair of gloves and he was wearing a stocking, according to his attorney, Russell Pate.

"Where is the real evidence?" Pate asked.

The defendants face a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Sentencing for all four defendants is scheduled for Dec. 4.

The V.I. Police Department, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives took part in the investigation.

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

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