Man on trial in St. Croix shooting takes deal just before jury begins deliberations


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ST. CROIX - After more than three days of testimony in the V.I. Superior Court trial of a man charged in connection with a shooting incident just more than a year ago, the prosecution and defense opted to avoid a gamble on a verdict and entered into a plea agreement.

Angel Ilarraza, 22, and his younger brother, Antonio Ilarraza, 19, were arrested Dec. 1, 2012, after police executed a warrant connecting them to a number of violent crimes in the weeks prior to their arrest.

Antonio Ilarraza was arrested on a warrant in connection with a series of incidents reported to police by a number of witnesses, who were not named in the probable cause fact sheet to protect their identities, according to police.

Antonio Ilarraza also was arrested on a warrant in connection with a home invasion.

Angel Ilarraza was charged with reckless endangerment; carrying a dangerous weapon during the commission of a violent crime; unauthorized possession of a firearm; failure to report a firearm brought into the territory; unauthorized possession of ammunition; unauthorized use of a vehicle; and grand larceny in connection with an incident in Estate Profit housing community on Nov. 15, 2012. Police said Angel Ilarraza fired shots recklessly in the housing community and then stole a woman's car and left the area.

Defense attorneys later asked that the cases of the two brothers be severed, and that motion was granted.

Angel Ilarraza's case came to trial first, before V.I. Superior Court Judge Robert Molloy and began on Monday. During the course of the trial, the jurors heard testimony from police officers, detectives, forensic technicians and two eyewitnesses, who initially told police that they saw the shooting.

The women later recanted their stories and wrote a letter saying they had made a mistake.

On Thursday, after testimony from V.I. Police Detective Jeffrey Nesbitt, the case agent, Angel Ilarraza's attorney Ezsart Wynter asked Assistant Attorney General Melissa Ortiz whether a plea offer still was available.

Rather than run the risk of an acquittal, Ortiz extended a plea deal to Angel Ilarraza, allowing him to plead guilty to a single charge of first-degree reckless endangerment, which carries a five-year maximum sentence.

Angel Ilarraza accepted the plea offer under a special provision in which he maintains his innocence in the case but says that he realizes that the evidence against him is such that a reasonable jury could convict him of the crimes.

In exchange for the plea agreement, Ortiz dismissed the remaining charges and agreed that Angel Ilarraza could be sentenced to time served while awaiting trial.

Molloy entered the plea and waived the preparation of a pre-sentencing report and sentenced Angel Ilarraza to the one year and two weeks that he has been incarcerated at Golden Grove in pre-trial detention.

He was released from prison Friday.

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

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