Jury finds St. Thomas man guilty in fatal shooting near Metropolis club fatal shooting near Metropolis nightclub
Published: September 14, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - One shot was all it took for one young man to lose his life.
It was also all it took for another to lose his life as he knew it.
On Friday, a jury found Dyhani Heyliger guilty of shooting and killing a 22-year-old bystander in a shootout last December. The bystander, Keith Dawson Jr., happened to be an old friend of Heyliger's and, unbeknownst to Heyliger, also a distant cousin.
The shooting ultimately led to the closure of Metropolis Lounge nightclub last month, after the V.I. Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs revoked its business license at the request of the V.I. Police Commissioner Rodney Querrard Sr.
The move was unprecedented, though the police may be seeking the closure of additional nightclubs if crime trends continue at them, Querrard said last month.
Heyliger, only a year older than the victim, will face a mandatory life sentence after being convicted of first-degree murder.
The jury also convicted Heyliger of second-degree murder; three counts each of first- and third-degree assault; six counts of unauthorized use of a firearm; and one count of reckless endangerment.
The jury found Heyliger guilty after several hours of deliberation, though his family shook their heads in disbelief as V.I. Superior Court Judge Michael Dunston announced the verdict Friday evening.
Heyliger looked back at his family, placed his hand near his chest and nodded at his family after the announcement was made.
At the very back of the court sat Keith Dawson Sr., father of Keith Dawson Jr.
"He's a young boy. I didn't want him to get life. Everybody makes mistakes," Dawson said of Heyliger.
Dawson said he just found out that the two young men were related.
While Dawson, who testified for the prosecution earlier this week, felt that "guilty" on all counts was the right verdict, he said he also felt that the outcome for both his son and Heyliger was tragic, on both ends.
"I will never see him again," he said of his son. "But it was an accident."
The shooting was recounted time and again in court throughout the week.
Heyliger was accused of shooting and killing Keith Dawson Jr. in a parking lot adjacent to Metropolis Lounge nightclub in the early morning hours of Dec. 8, 2012, soon after the nightclub closed that morning.
Heyliger was not arrested until late January, when Customs and Border Patrol agents arrested him trying to board a plane leaving the territory.
It was then that Heyliger told police what he recalled of the incident. He told police in a video recorded statement that he had wanted to target or "scare" Shaquille Alexander Percell - not Dawson.
Heyliger told police that he had been at the location at the time of the incident, and he had drawn his gun and fired shots toward Percell.
Heyliger also said that he had realized just after the incident that he had shot and killed someone, though it was unclear whether he knew who at the time, according to his statement to police.
He had cried, Heyliger said in his statement, and recalled playing sports with Dawson and working on cars when they grew older. He told several family members about what happened, none of them able to believe that he would do such a thing, he said in his statement to police.
However, when it came to his plea, Heyliger maintained that he was not guilty.
"It was a very unfortunate thing. A young man died, but you have to view the circumstances, the totality of the situation," said Clive Rivers, Heyliger's attorney.
Rivers maintained that Heyliger's shots had been in self-defense, and Heyliger could easily have been the one who died.
However, video surveillance from the scene of the crime showed Percell in the moments before the shootout and the moments during.
Percell was returning fire from another source, and he had not fired shots before the ones that he returned, based on the video surveillance.
It also showed that Percell was firing shots to the west, in the direction where an eyewitness had identified Heyliger.
The prosecution was adamant that Heyliger initiated the shootout.
"Mr. Dawson would have to have been in between Mr. Percell and Mr. Heyliger for Mr. Percell to have shot him," said Assistant Attorney General Sigrid Tejo-Sprotte, who prosecuted the case with Assistant Attorney General Ed Veronda.
Dawson, after the shots were fired, fell to the ground after taking a gunshot to his neck, a shot that ultimately led to his death, according to territorial Medical Examiner Dr. Francisco Landron.
Percell, who also testified for the prosecution in court this week, was arrested in February on charges of illegal discharge of a weapon; possession of a firearm during a commission of a crime of violence; possession of an unlicensed firearm; and reckless endangerment in connection with the same incident. Heyliger is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 4.
- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email email@example.com.