Trial begins for St. Croix man charged with murdering man during robbery


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ST. CROIX - Opening statements were presented Tuesday afternoon in the case of a 23-year-old man who is charged with robbing and murdering another man more than four years ago, while his one-time co-defendant is now the key witness in the case against him.

Jomar 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.

During opening statements, Assistant Attorney General Andrette Watson told the jurors that the evidence will show that 22-year-old Misael Morales was a hard worker, and as he walked in the Castle Coakley area that night, Encarnacion shot him in the back of his head and took his cellular telephone, gold jewelry and just more than $300 that Morales had just been paid from his part-time job.

Watson said the only other witness to the crime, Chayenne Trinidad, is expected to testify about how the moments played out just before and after the shooting.

During his opening remarks, defense attorney Charles Lockwood said he plans to also 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.

During a detention hearing several months after the murder, Assistant Attorney General Kippy Roberson called V.I. Police Detective Cureen Smith to the stand to testify.

Smith said police found a Cost-U-Less identification card on Morales' body and a check stub for $375.03 with the same name. She said Morales' girlfriend said the two met up, and Morales gave her $40, then left to go pay Trinidad the balance of what he owed on a cell phone, the girlfriend told police.

Police said video surveillance in the area confirmed that Morales met up with Trinidad, and the two went to the El Sol bar, where they sat together and drank for a while before leaving, Smith said.

Trinidad told two different versions of what happened after that to police, Smith said.

The first time, Trinidad said he and Morales split paths at the bar, because, he said, Morales wanted him to come to Castle Coakley, but Trinidad said "he didn't like that area," Smith recounted.

Trinidad later told police that Encarnacion picked the two up in Encarnacion's uncle's pickup truck, and the three of them went to Castle Coakley. 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, Smith testified.

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

The trial resumes at 9 a.m. today.

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

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