St. Thomas jurist to oversee St. Croix murder trial starting today


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ST. CROIX - Jury selection and trial is scheduled to begin today in the V.I. Superior Court case where 26-year old Elijah Ritter is charged with murder and related charges.

Ritter is charged with first-degree murder; first-degree assault; third-degree assault; unauthorized possession of a firearm; carrying a dangerous weapon during the commission of a violent crime; failure to report a firearm brought into the territory; possession of ammunition and first-degree reckless endangerment in the July 7, 2013, shooting death of Sheldon Phillips.

All of the V.I. Superior Court judges on St. Croix recused themselves from hearing the matter, citing multiple conflicts - knowing both Ritter's family and Phillips' family and because Phillips' mother is an employee of the court.

The case has been assigned to V.I. Superior Court Presiding Judge Michael Dunston, who sits on St. Thomas and will now preside of the trial on St. Croix.

According to police, a huge house party in Estate Butler Bay was wrapping up just before sunrise when emergency dispatchers received reports of shots fired there.

Witnesses - including some anonymous calls to Crime Stoppers USVI - told police that Phillips, 31, got into an argument with another man - now identified as Ritter - about a parking or driving situation and that Ritter pulled out a gun and fired several shots, one of which hit Phillips behind his ear as he sat in his vehicle.

Phillips was unresponsive when he arrived at Luis Hospital's emergency room and subsequently died of his injuries.

The affidavit in support of Ritter's arrest warrant has been placed under seal to protect the integrity of the ongoing investigation, which police said could yield additional arrests.

However, Joseph has filed a motion seeking to unseal the affidavit, saying that he would be in a better position to begin preparing for a defense in the case if he has access to the affidavit and the information it contains.

Dunston ordered that the prosecution submit a detailed sealed information summarizing the investigation for inspection, specifically indicating any witnesses and other parties that unsealing the affidavit would jeopardize.

Ritter has strong family ties to the community, but he also has a criminal history, which includes being arrested as an 18-year-old student at St. Croix Educational Complex when he stabbed another student multiple times during a fight.

While he was on pretrial release in that case, he was arrested on charges that he shot another man, but the victim later recanted his statements and the charges were dismissed.

Ritter has been in jail at Golden Grove Adult Correctional Facility since his arrest two weeks after the fatal shooting.

At Ritter's arraignment, Brady upheld the bail at $1 million as it had been set in the arrest warrant. Once the case was turned over to Dunston, he entertained a motion and subsequently granted a reduction in the bail to $500,000 but made no provision for a 10 percent posting. Ritter would have had to come up with $500,000 in cash or $1 million in property to satisfy the bail amount.

Once the jury is selected the prosecution will begin to present its case by calling witnesses and presenting evidence.

Ritter is being defended by attorney Michael Joseph and Assistant Attorney General Cornelius Evans is representing the people of the Virgin Islands in the case.

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

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