V.I. Supreme Court orders new trial for St. Thomas man

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ST. THOMAS - The V.I. Supreme Court ordered a new trial for a man convicted of multiple assault and weapons charges last year.

Tristan Joseph was convicted in November 2012 of one count of third-degree assault; one count of unauthorized possession of a firearm; one count of unauthorized use of a firearm during a third-degree assault; and reckless endangerment.

The Supreme Court reversed Joseph's convictions for third-degree assault and unauthorized use of a firearm during a third-degree assault, according to an opinion released Monday.

The initial charges - which included first-degree attempted murder and second-degree attempted murder - stemmed from a March 8, 2011, incident in which Joseph is said to have shot Imbert Zepherin.

Joseph said during his trial that it was an accident, though Zepherin disputed those claims.

Joseph initially told police that he had fired a shot into the air, though he then stated that "he 'Couldn't handle the burden of ... accidentally shooting Zepherin, and did not know if the police would believe his claim that the shooting had been accidental," the opinion stated.

Joseph's story was corroborated by a witness, who saw the two playing a game of "stick up," though the witness said they did not see the shooting itself.

However, Zepherin said that Joseph shot him for no reason while a group of them were watching movies at Frydenhoj Ball Park and then told Zepherin to tell police that he had been injured during a drive-by shooting.

The V.I. Superior Court erred several times during the trial, according to the Supreme Court opinion, authored by Chief Justice Rhys Hodge.

As argued in Joseph's appeal, the judge during the trial, who is not named, answered questions from the jury without notifying the prosecution or the defense, the opinion found.

Additionally, the trial court failed to notify the jury that the prosecution was required to disprove, beyond reasonable doubt, that Joseph accidentally shot Zepherin, according to the opinion.

As a result, the Supreme Court remanded the two reversed convictions back to Superior Court, which will force the prosecution to disprove that the incident was an accident.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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