Prosecution witness describes murder, dismemberment of slain St. Croix officer
Published: January 30, 2014
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ST. CROIX - The prosecution's primary witness, a woman who said she saw the murder of V.I. Police Cpl. Wendell "Lazee" Williams in 2001, spent all day on the witness stand Wednesday during the third day of the murder trial of the five people accused of killing Williams.
Theresa Coogle, who began her testimony Tuesday afternoon, is scheduled to resume her testimony when the trial resumes today before 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.
The trial began Tuesday, and Assistant Attorney General Kip Roberson called his key witness, Coogle, who testified on direct examination that she had been in a relationship with Maximiliano Velasquez and was 18 when she witnessed Williams' murder almost 13 years ago.
Coogle's testimony has differed from previous statements she made to federal and local law enforcement officers on a number of items.
Tied up and tortured
As she continued testifying Wednesday, Coogle offered details of what happened the night Williams was killed.
Coogle said she and Maximiliano Velasquez had been out celebrating their engagement before he dropped her at home. A few hours later, he called her to meet him at the abandoned resort, and that was where she saw the murder take place, she said.
Coogle said she drove Maximiliano Velasquez's maroon Honda CRX to the island's south shore, driving along the road until she saw him standing by the side of the road waiting for her.
She said she parked the car, and they both walked to the abandoned building together and that was where she saw a man - who she later identified as Williams - tied to a supporting beam in the center of the room with his hands and feet bound.
Coogle said the area was lit by the light of a construction lantern that was powered by a generator.
Coogle testified that as she waited for Maximiliano Velasquez, she saw Williams being electrocuted by another man.
She said Ventura then shot Williams in the hand, a man from St. Maarten - who she knew only as Michael - then shot Williams in the mouth and Rivera shot Williams in the head.
She said she was shocked as she watched, and saw Rivera and Ventura cut Williams' body into pieces, put the pieces into trash bags and take them down to the beach area.
Coogle said she left at that time and was sick to her stomach. She testified that she could see a boat near the beach, but could not see anything else.
Maximiliano Velasquez told her to get hold of herself and ordered her back to the building to clean up, Coogle testified.
"He was very abusive, and I just did what he said," she said. "He told me that if I ever said a word to anyone about what I had seen, I would end up just like the man."
Coogle testified that based on what Maximiliano Velasquez told her after the murder, the body parts were dumped somewhere in the Caribbean Sea north and east of Buck Island.
Coogle testified she did not know who the man was until at least a day after the murder, when she saw Williams' picture on the news.
After Roberson's direct examination, the defense attorneys took turns cross-examining Coogle, trying to discredit her, poke holes in her story and establish a motive for her to lie.
Rivera's attorney, Gordon Rhea, questioned Coogle's statement about Williams being tied to a pole, and showed her where she previously had said that when Williams was shot, his body fell to the ground face first and his feet were up in the air.
He questioned a previous statement she made to agents that she had driven to the south shore area with Maximiliano Velasquez in his black truck.
'I've been through a lot'
For those and other inconsistencies that Rhea asked Coogle to clear up, she said she either did not recall giving the statement at all or did not remember making those specific remarks.
"I have been through a lot, I was traumatized," she said. "I've tried to put things behind me with counseling and therapy."
While Coogle also denied making the statements, Rhea presented a police statement that he said showed Coogle went to the authorities in an attempt to regain custody of the young daughter that she had with Maximiliano Velasquez.
Rhea said that federal agents' reports indicate Coogle said she would give the information about Williams' murder, but if she did not get her daughter back, she would go on the witness stand and play dumb.
"So is that what you're doing now, playing dumb like you say you would?" Rhea asked Coogle.
Roberson leaped to his feet, objecting to the question, which Donohue sustained.
When Juan Velasquez's attorney, Vincent Colianni, rose to begin his cross-examination, he recapped Coogle's version of the night before the murder, asking her whether she wanted them to believe that she was dropped home, then called out, just to witness the killing.
Coogle's drug use
He then moved asked about Coogle's drug use.
She has admitted to using cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy and a number of prescription drugs.
Colianni pointed out that ecstasy is a psychoactive drug that causes memory loss.
However, that line of questioning could work against the defense and could give Coogle a logical reason in the eyes of the jurors for not recalling so many of the conversations that she has been documented to have had with law enforcement officers during the last 12 years.
Maximiliano Velasquez' attorney, H. Hannibal O'Bryan, questioned Coogle's motive for waiting almost a year to come forward with the information about the murder, saying that she had made the deal to get her daughter and suggested that she may have known that a large reward had been offered for anyone who came forward with information that led to the arrest and conviction of the persons responsible for Williams' disappearance.
However, Coogle maintained in her testimony that she came forward because knowledge of the crime was heavy on her conscience.
When the trial resumes today, Coogle will remain on the witness stand for further cross-examination by the other defense attorneys - Jomo Meade, who is representing Clercent, and Daniel Cevallos, representing Ventura.
The trial resumes today at 9 a.m.