Jury selection begins for 'Lazee' Williams murder trial

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ST. CROIX - Day two of jury selection is expected to begin today in the long-awaited murder trial of five people accused of torturing and killing V.I. Police Cpl. Wendell "Lazee" Williams more than 12 years ago.

More than 150 potential jurors were brought in for the panel, which will be used to select the 12 persons who will determine the fate of Maximiliano Velasquez III; Juan Velasquez; Jose Ventura; Jose Rivera Jr.; and Sharima Clercent. They all are facing first-degree murder charges in the case being heard by Senior Sitting Judge Darryl Donohue Sr.

With the exception of Clercent, the other defendants still are in custody of Bureau of Corrections, and they were escorted to court early Tuesday by heavily armed guards, who remained stationed at the front of the courthouse throughout the day.

Two V.I. Corrections officers dressed in tactical gear and holding high-power rifles stood guard, while two other uniformed Corrections officers stood nearby.

Maximiliano Velasquez III, Juan Velasquez and Ventura all made renewed motions for their release last month, which Donohue ruled on just before the trial started.

In his order Friday, the judge said that the three defendants had petitioned the court for release on a number of conditions, including posting cash or property, providing third-party custodians and remaining on 24-hour house arrest with the use of an electronic monitoring device. Donohue said if they are each able to meet the conditions as outlined in their individual motions for release, he will grant the motions with those conditions, pending the outcome of the trial.

With the dozens of jurors, as well as attorneys, witnesses and family members representing both sides of the case, the court parking area was filled to capacity Tuesday, with the overflow parked along Queen Mary Highway and along a dirt road along the court's western boundaries.

Williams disappeared after he got off work on June 14, 2001.

The prosecution contends the defendants kidnapped Williams and took him to an abandoned building at the former South Grapetree Bay Resort on the East End, where he was tortured and fatally shot before his body was dismembered with a buzz saw.

Williams' body never was found, and the prosecution's case is based on witness accounts - primarily that of a confidential informant - and other evidence.

Attorney Daniel Cevallos is representing Ventura; public defender Hannibal O'Bryan is representing Maximiliano Velasquez; attorney Vincent Colianni Jr. is representing Juan Velasquez; attorney Jomo Meade is representing Clercent; and attorney Gordon Rhea is representing Rivera.

Assistant Attorney General Kippy Roberson is prosecuting the case.

All the seats in the courtroom on Tuesday were filled with potential jurors, and a few remained in the jury assembly room.

Expecting a large crowd of family members and others from the community who are interested in the case, the court set up another courtroom with a closed-caption feed of the proceedings.

Jury selection went until just after 5 p.m. Tuesday, with the judge excusing a number of people from the panel after they expressed reasons why they could not serve that included affiliation with the defendants, witnesses or attorneys.

Donohue has said that once the jury is empaneled, the plan is to proceed immediately with trial.

Attorneys said they expect the trial to last two to three weeks.

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

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