Man charged in Estate Butler Bay slaying in jail despite 50% cut in bail
Published: October 3, 2013
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ST. CROIX - Despite a 50 percent reduction of the $1 million bail set in his case, Elijah Ritter, charged in the July 7 shooting death of Sheldon Phillips, remains jailed at Golden Grove Adult Correctional Facility.
Ritter, 25, is charged with first-degree murder; first-degree assault; third-degree assault; unauthorized possession of a firearm; carrying a dangerous weapon during the commission of a violent crime; failure to report a firearm brought into the territory; and first-degree reckless endangerment.
At Ritter's arraignment, V.I. Superior Court Judge Douglas Brady upheld the bail at $1 million as it had been set in the arrest warrant, and since then Brady and the remaining judges on St. Croix recused themselves from hearing the matter, citing conflicts in knowing both Ritter's and Phillips' families and because Phillips' mother is an employee of the court.
The case was assigned to V.I. Superior Court Presiding Judge Michael Dunston, who sits on St. Thomas.
Dunston heard a renewed motion for reduction of bail and release from custody Wednesday via video-conference at the court.
After hearing arguments from defense attorney Michael Joseph and Assistant Attorney General Cornelius Evans, Dunston granted a reduction of the bail to $500,000. However, he did not grant a provision to allow Ritter to post 10 percent of the bond, instead ruling that the $500,000 would have to be fully secured by posting the entire amount in cash or using real property valued at $1 million.
According to police, a huge house party in Estate Butler Bay was wrapping up just before sunrise when emergency dispatchers received reports of shots fired there.
Witnesses told police that Phillips, 31, got into an argument with another man - now identified as Ritter - about a parking or driving situation and that Ritter pulled out a gun and fired several shots, one of which hit Phillips behind his ear as he sat in his vehicle.
Phillips was unresponsive when he arrived at Luis Hospital's emergency room and subsequently died of his injuries.
The affidavit in support of Ritter's arrest warrant has been placed under seal to protect the integrity of the ongoing investigation, which police said could yield additional arrests.
However, Joseph has filed a motion seeking to unseal the affidavit, saying that he would be in a better position to begin preparing for a defense in the case if he has access to the affidavit and the information it contains.
Dunston has taken that motion under advisement.
Ritter has strong family ties to the community, but he also has a criminal history, which includes being arrested as an 18-year-old student at St. Croix Educational Complex when he stabbed another student eight times during a fight.
While he was on pretrial release in that case, he was arrested on charges that he shot another man, but the victim later recanted his statements and the charges were dismissed.
- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.