Trial begins for man accused of trying to kill witness twice


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ST. THOMAS - Prosecutors on Thursday morning began laying out their case against an 18-year-old St. Thomas man who they say tried to kill a key witness in a murder investigation.

In a brief opening statement, Assistant Attorney General Quincy McRae told the jury that the government intends to prove C'Quan Celestine twice tried to kill Emile Kitnurse, the sole witness to the 2005 stabbing death of Euclid Smith Jr.

McRae said Kitnurse would testify that Celestine first attacked him on Sept. 11, 2011.

On that evening, according to an affidavit written by the case agent, V.I. Police Detective Jose Allen, Kitnurse had left his aunt's Anna's Retreat home when a white, four-door vehicle drove up on the opposite side of the road. Celestine, the front-seat passenger, pointed a gun at Kitnurse and fired four shots at him, according to the affidavit.

McRae said Kitnurse called 911 and waited for police to arrive on the scene. Kitnurse told police at the time he had known Celestine, who lived with his grandmother and "two uncles with dreadlocks," for several years, according to Allen's affidavit.

Less than three weeks later, on Sept. 28, 2011, Kitnurse was walking outside Anna's Market and Celestine approached him again, according to Allen's affidavit.

McRae told the jury Kitnurse would testify that Celestine, during this altercation, pointed a gun at him and attempted to shoot him, but the gun jammed.

The incident occurred five days after police arrested Carlton Creque Jr. in connection with the death of Smith, who was Kitnurse's nephew, according to Allen's affidavit. Kitnurse also told police that Creque and Celestine were friends, Allen wrote.

However, prosecutors are limited in the amount of information they can introduce from other criminal cases; in this instance, McRae identified Creque only as a suspect in a matter involving Kitnurse's nephew.

Creque initially was charged with first-degree murder and other crimes in connection with Smith's death, but the government dismissed the case without prejudice in July because of a lack of evidence.

When McRae finished, Celestine's defense attorney, Michael Quinn, asked for a sidebar conference, and Judge Michael Dunston temporarily dismissed the jury. By the time they returned and Quinn stood at the podium ready to deliver his opening remarks, about half an hour had passed since McRae's brief opening statement.

Quinn swiftly began casting doubt about the reliability of eyewitnesses and said the government's case against Celestine would be almost entirely based on the testimony of Kitnurse.

"You have to listen to every word he says," Quinn said.

For instance, Quinn drew a distinction between Kitnurse saying he definitely saw Celestine with a gun and Kitnurse saying he thought he saw Celestine with a gun. Quinn also highlighted the fact that police never recovered any bullets from either incident and that Kitnurse was not injured.

"You'll hear about shots, but you won't hear about wounds," Quinn said.

Quinn compared the reasonable doubt standard that protects his client to the walls of Fort Christian.

"To prove someone guilty, the government has to get up and over those high walls," Quinn said. "Unless the government does that, the walls protect not just my client but each and every one of you. And at the end of the day the government will not have even gotten close to the top of one of those walls."

Celestine was arrested in August 2012 and charged with two counts each of attempted first-degree murder and third-degree assault, and single counts of first-degree assault, retaliation against or threatening a witness, reckless endangerment and possession of an unlicensed firearm during the commission of a violent crime.

The trial is scheduled to continue today.

- Contact Lou Mattei at 714-9124 or email lmattei@dailynews.vi.

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