'Lazee' Williams murder trial begins

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ST. CROIX - After a full day of hearing arguments on a myriad motions outstanding in the murder trial of five people accused of torturing and killing V.I. Police Cpl. Wendell "Lazee" Williams more than 12 years ago, Senior Sitting Judge Darryl Donohue Sr., ruled Monday that the testimony of the prosecution's confidential informant and the photo array identification of the five accused will be allowed to be presented to the jury.

In a day set aside to dispose of outstanding motions in the case, Donohue listened to arguments brought by the defense primarily attempting to suppress the testimony of the main eyewitness, who prosecutors said was a participant in concealing the crimes and who has become a witness for the prosecution.

Maximiliano Velasquez III, Juan Velasquez, Jose Ventura, Jose Rivera Jr. and Sharima Clercent are facing first-degree murder charges in the case.

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, his body then dismembered and thrown out to sea.

Williams' body never was found, and the prosecution's case is based on witness accounts and other evidence.

Attorney Daniel Cevallos is representing Ventura; public defender H. 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 with no co-counsel.

Cevallos led the arguments against the informant's testimony as a competent witness. He said that the court has to look at her personal knowledge, drug use, age or vantage point at the time of the crime and her ability to understand her duty to testify truthfully and that she had failed in more than one area.

The woman took the stand and testified for close to five hours about the facts of the case and her recollection of the crime, but she consistently could not recall basic information. Much of her in-court testimony Monday contradicted her responses to law enforcement agents in previous statements.

Cevallos pointed out to the court that the woman first said that Maximiliano Velasquez, who she said was her boyfriend at the time, had driven her to the murder location and then later testified that she drove herself there to meet him. Cevallos said she previously had told agents that she was under the influence of some type of drug the night of the murder, but she said Monday that she never said that and was not using drugs at the time.

Roberson said while there may be some concerns, nothing calls into question the witness' ability to recall the events and that her base story has remained the same.

Donohue ruled to allow her testimony, saying that he was not charged with judging her credibility, only her competency and he finds her to be competent to take the stand.

He also allowed the woman's identification of the five defendants through the use of a photo array, which defense attorneys had argued was suggestive and unduly prejudicial. The judge said the woman was able to identify the men, not only through the photo arrays, but because she had known each of the defendants for several years before.

Earlier in the day, Donohue had ruled in favor of the defense to suppress any testimony about the use of chemicals used to detect the presence of blood in the area said to be the crime scene.

The 12 jurors and six alternates selected last week will hear opening statements and witnesses testimony when the prosecution begins to present its case today.

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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