Suspect-turned-key witness testifies in St. Croix murder trial


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ST. CROIX - A former co-defendant initially charged with murder in connection with a March 2010 shooting took the stand Wednesday as a key prosecution witness in the murder trial of 23-year-old Jomar Encarnacion.

Encarnacion is charged with first-degree murder; felony murder; first-degree robbery; reckless endangerment; and unauthorized use of a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence in the case being heard by V.I. Superior Court Judge Harold Willocks.

He is accused of shooting Misael Morales in the back of the head as they walked in Castle Coakley with a third man - Chayanne Trinidad, who testified Wednesday.

During the trial's second day, Trinidad - through questioning by Assistant Attorney General Andrette Watson - attempted to walk the jurors through the events that led up to Morales' robbery and murder.

Trinidad said Morales showed up at Trinidad's home on the afternoon of the fateful day to pay him some money that he owed Trinidad for a cellular telephone. He said they later went to El Sol Bar and had some drinks before they were joined by Encarnacion.

Trinidad testified that the three men drove in Encarnacion's uncle's truck to Castle Coakley, and that was where Encarnacion shot Morales and took his gold chain and money.

Trinidad admitted to taking Morales' cellular phone and selling it later, but he said he did not take anything else.

Under cross-examination by Encarnacion's attorney, Charles Lockwood, Trinidad denied being the one who called Encarnacion and told him he had killed Morales. He denied selling Morales' gold chain and pendant and maintained that he had seen the gun at least one time before the night of the killing, when Encarnacion brought him to his uncle's house.

Earlier in the day Wednesday, jurors heard testimony from Medical Examiner Dr. Francisco Landron, who confirmed that Morales died from a single gunshot wound to the head that entered the back and exited his forehead.

Landron said no projectile was recovered, so police were unable to determine what type of weapon was used in the shooting. He said the shooting was classified as a long-range shooting, with the gun being fired from at least 3 feet away.

During his opening remarks Tuesday, Lockwood said he plans to present evidence and witnesses showing that the only connection between his client and the murder is Trinidad, adding that Trinidad is a convicted liar who lied to police and was caught.

Both men initially had been charged with the murder, and both told police it was the other man who fired the one gunshot through Morales' head, according to police.

Murder and related charges against Trinidad were dismissed, and he pleaded guilty to a single count of giving false information to police.

Trinidad told two different versions of what happened to police, according to the testimony Tuesday of V.I. Police Detective Cureen Smith.

The first time, Trinidad said he and Morales went their separate ways from the bar, because Morales wanted Trinidad to come to Castle Coakley, but Trinidad said "he didn't like that area," Smith testified.

Trinidad later told police that he was ready to tell the truth and said Encarnacion picked the two up in Encarnacion's uncle's pickup truck, and the three of them went to Castle Coakley, according to Smith.

Trinidad told investigators that, as the three were walking, Encarnacion told him he was going to kill Morales but that Trinidad did not believe him until Encarnacion pulled out a .38-caliber handgun and shot Morales, police said.

Trinidad had told police that Encarnacion used a gun owned by Encarnacion's uncle. When police arrested Encarnacion, they also arrested Encarnacion's uncle, Angel Soto, and charged him with possession of an unauthorized firearm.

Jurors have also heard testimony from Morales' former girlfriend and a number of police officers.

When testimony resumes today, prosecutors will call their final witnesses and are expected to rest their case before lunch.

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

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