St. Croix man charged with assault asks for a new lawyer - for the seventh time


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ST. CROIX - Jahzeel Fenton, 23, has been in pre-trial detention since he was arrested at the age of 17 on charges that he shot his girlfriend in front of her three children, his case languishing in V.I. Superior Court primarily because he has not been satisfied with the performance of his court-appointed attorneys.

On Wednesday, Fenton appeared for what was expected to be a pre-trial conference in preparation for his upcoming jury trial, which was scheduled for Sept. 22 before V.I. Superior Court Judge Douglas Brady.

Instead, Fenton asked for a seventh time that the court appoint a new attorney for him.

While the case has been delayed for four years, Fenton's victim claims he is deliberately stonewalling the judicial process in hopes that the debilitating health issues she suffered from being shot will result in her death and help him avoid trial.

Fenton was 17 when he was arrested and charged with first-degree attempted murder and first-degree assault in connection with the March 19, 2010, shooting of 26-year-old Joana Lang.

He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

During Wednesday's hearing, Fenton's attorney, Michael Joseph, said Fenton filed a grievance against him with the V.I. Bar Association, accusing him of not being an effective counsel.

"Based on the filing, your honor, I can't do anything more," Joseph said to the court. "The lawyer-client privilege is over. I am disqualified and cannot be involved."

Assistant Attorney General Charlotte Poole Davis said she was aware of the filing in the case and reminded the court that the case has been pending for more than four years and that during that time, Fenton has requested a change of attorney seven different times for a variety of reasons.

Davis said the latest motion poses a problem for the prosecution because they had been preparing to bring at least five witnesses from off-island for the trial and now those plans have to be changed.

Brady said Fenton also had filed some motions of his own representing himself, which also poses a problem. The judge advised Fenton that the continued delays in the case based on his actions are not going to continue, and this will be the last time that Fenton is afforded the chance for a new attorney.

"You have had one of the most experienced criminal attorneys in the Virgin Islands on this case, and for whatever reason, things didn't work out," he said.

Brady advised Fenton that he will be appointed one more attorney and has to decide whether he wants that person to represent him or whether he will represent himself and have that person only for guidance.

When police responded to the shooting, they said Fenton was standing over Lang as she lay in the hallway after he shot her in front of three young children. Police said they found a .357-caliber magnum revolver under the pump house that they believed was used in the shooting.

Complications resulting from the shooting have left Lang with permanent injuries. She lost a kidney, part of her small intestine, and both of her legs were amputated below the knee, according to court documents.

On Wednesday afternoon, Lang, who is in Texas, spoke to The Daily News and said she has to rely on dialysis treatment to stay alive and the continued delays in the case are causing her additional stress.

"I feel like this is just total disrespect to me, and I am being victimized over and over," she said. "We were getting ready for the trial next month so that I could finally close this chapter of my life and move on, but now it's not going to happen."

Lang said Fenton contacted her after the case began and persuaded her to write a letter to the court saying the shooting was an accident.

She said she felt badly and did it, but when she realized he was just manipulating her, she wrote another letter retracting the first letter.

"Now I feel like as sick as I am, he is just hoping that I would die before the case comes to trial," she said.

Lang said she will await the new trial date and begin the process of making arrangements.

"With my medical conditions, I have to set up things in advance with my insurance and the hospitals there to make sure I can get treatment," she said. "It's not easy, and it is time that they see him for who he is so we can have the trial and get it over with."

Fenton remains jailed unable to post bail and recently has been charged with introducing contraband to the prison.

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

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