Slow jury selection pushes 'Lazee' Williams murder trial start to next week


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ST. CROIX - A slow selection process and a short week has moved the potential start date of the trial into next week for the five people accused of torturing and killing V.I. Police Cpl. Wendell "Lazee" Williams more than 12 years ago.

Jury selection for the case began Tuesday morning, with more than 150 potential jurors brought in for the panel that will be used to select the 12 persons who will determine the fate of the five defendants.

Selection continued on Wednesday morning for a majority of the larger-than-usual panel, who then were sent home for the day while the process began after lunch for the remaining members of the panel who could not fit in the courtroom.

While some of the jurors have been excused from the case for varying reasons - including affiliation with the defendants, attorneys or witnesses - today all of the remaining potential jurors are expected to return to court to continue the process.

The jury is being empanelled to hear the case of Maximiliano Velasquez III; Juan Velasquez; Jose Ventura; Jose Rivera Jr.; and Sharima Clercent, who all are facing first-degree murder charges in the case being heard by Senior Sitting Judge Darryl Donohue Sr.

With the exception of Clercent, the other defendants still are in custody of the V.I. Corrections Bureau. On Wednesday, they once again were escorted to court by heavily armed guards, who remained stationed at the front of the courthouse throughout the day.

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 before his body was dismembered with a buzz saw.

Williams' body never was found, and the prosecution's case is based on witness accounts - primarily that of a confidential informant - and other evidence.

Assistant Attorney General Kippy Roberson is prosecuting the case.

Attorney Daniel Cevallos is representing Ventura; public defender 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.

Donohue has said that once the jury is empaneled, the plan is to proceed immediately with trial, but the selection process is only expected to run through lunchtime today in order for the court to make preparations for the official investiture ceremony for newly appointed Judge Robert Molloy, which will take place on Friday.

Because of the ceremony Friday, once the court breaks for lunch today, the case is expected to stand in recess until next week.

Attorneys said they expect the trial to last two to three weeks, once the selection process is over.

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

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