Prosecution's key witness finishes testimony, describes lone female defendant cleaning up after dismemberment of cop
Published: January 31, 2014
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ST. CROIX - When the trial continued Thursday for five people charged in the 2001 murder of veteran V.I. Police Officer Wendell "Lazee" Williams, defense attorneys continued their cross-examination and tried to poke holes in the testimony of the prosecution's primary witness, a woman who said she saw the murder.
Theresa Coogle, who has admitted extensive drug use that began after 2001 and whose statements to police during the years since Williams' disappearance are rife with inconsistencies, began her testimony Tuesday afternoon.
She spent the entire day on the stand Wednesday and wrapped up her testimony Thursday morning in the case being tried by V.I. Superior Court Senior Sitting Judge Darryl Donohue Sr.
Maximiliano Velasquez III; Juan Velasquez; Jose Ventura; Jose Rivera Jr.; and Sharima Clercent are facing charges of aiding and abetting each other in committing first-degree murder.
The prosecution contends the defendants kidnapped Williams some time after he got off work on June 14, 2001, 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 and thrown out to sea and was never found.
As the defense's cross-examination of Coogle continued, attorney Gordon Rhea, who is representing Rivera, tried to establish a motive for Coogle to fabricate the story.
He asked Coogle whether she went to the police just days after her daughter was taken from her and whether she was trying to get revenge on Maximiliano Velasquez because he had taken their daughter.
"That is incorrect," she responded.
Clercent's attorney, Jomo Meade, focused his cross-examination on having Coogle clarify what role, if any, Clercent had in the reported torture and killing.
"We were just ordered to clean up the blood by Max," Coogle answered.
"So she didn't shoot anyone or order anyone to shoot anyone, right?" Meade asked.
"No," Coogle replied.
"And what role did she play in dismembering or disposing the body?" Meade asked.
"She did not play any role," she answered.
Coogle finished her testimony before the court recessed for lunch.
Cold case investigation
After lunch, the case agent, V.I. Police Detective Frankie Ortiz took the witness stand and testified that as a member of the police department's Cold Case Unit, he was handed the case folder in June 2011, two weeks shy of the 10-year anniversary of Williams' disappearance.
Ortiz said the investigation had been dormant for several years, but police received information and some leads that caused them to reopen the case.
The initial law enforcement contact with Coogle was in 2002, and Ortiz contacted the FBI to locate her in Tampa, Fla., in 2011 and went there to conduct a preliminary investigation, he testified.
Ortiz said he went to the location near Grapetree Bay that Coogle had described and walked through the overgrown area until he found the structure she told him about under thick shrubbery.
An aerial photograph of the area was shown to the jury, and defense attorneys questioned Ortiz about how he verified the woman's story when he went to the area and saw the pictures.
Maximiliano Velasquez's attorney, H. Hannibal O'Bryan, pointed out that the beach area was protected by a reef that would prevent boats from coming in.
Ortiz said he had not looked at that.
O'Bryan also asked Ortiz whether he was aware that the motor vessel Ashes, that Coogle said was used to dump Williams' dismembered body, had been seized by federal law enforcement at least a year before Williams disappeared.
Ortiz said he did not know and had documentation from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources that showed the boat's documentation was current.
During his cross-examination of Ortiz, Rhea revisited the presumption that a boat could not enter the shallow waters and used the map to show that the area of the abandoned building is just off an access road where a number of houses are located along the beach to the east and west of where the woman said the boat came in.
Ortiz testified that he never made contact with any of the occupants of the homes on his one attempt to canvass the area and does not know whether anyone was in the area or saw or heard anything on the evening of June 14, 2001.
The photo array
Jose Ventura's attorney, Daniel Cevallos, focused once again on the photo array that Ortiz sent to Tampa for Coogle to identify the people she said were involved in the crimes.
He asked Ortiz whether Coogle was able to identify Ventura from the photo array. Ortiz said no.
"So you got a second photo array together, and she identified him and you got the result you wanted?" Cevallos asked.
Ortiz said yes.
However, Coogle had testified that the second picture array had an earlier picture of Ventura before he cut his dreadlocks off, and that is the picture she recognized.
Jurors have heard testimony so far from Wendell Williams' sister and a friend who confirmed the dates that he was last seen and when he was reported missing. They also heard brief testimony from FBI agent Donald Kidd about taking Coogle's initial statement and making a site-visit with her in 2002 before the case became inactive.
When the trial resumes today, the defense team will continue their questioning of Ortiz.
Also on Thursday, Juror No. 2 was released from duty Thursday morning after a hearing about concerns that she had already come to a decision on a verdict and had expressed it.
The dismissal of Juror No. 2 leaves 12 jurors and five alternates left to hear the case.
- Contact Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.