V.I. Supreme Court overturns conviction for man involved in shooting outside Jaguars nightclub

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ST. THOMAS - The V.I. Supreme Court has overturned the conviction of a 21-year-old man convicted of firing shots and endangering innocent lives amid a shootout that left one man dead in 2010.

V.I. Police arrested Lorn Henley, 21, in connection with the shooting death of 31-year-old Aquil Abdullah in November 2010 outside of Jaguars nightclub in Havensight. He was subsequently convicted of reckless endangerment.

Police also arrested Shakieme Freeman, 20, whose reckless endangerment conviction thus far stands as is.

"The trial record is devoid of any evidence which confirms that Henley was seen in possession of or seen discharging a firearm," stated the Supreme Court opinion, written by Associate Justice Ive Swan.

The opinion further states that several witnesses on the scene at the time saw Henley near the victim just before he was shot, but none of them saw Henley with a firearm.

Additionally, there was no testimony that Henley had any significant amount of gunshot residue on his clothing or that any gunshot residue was found on his hands, the opinion stated.

"There is evidence that an enormous barrage of gunshots was fired from various sites at the crime scene, causing the immediate area to be permeated or saturated with gunshot residue, which would be found on anyone nearby and on objects at the crime scene," Swan wrote.

Aside from the first grievance Henley had with the trial, insufficient evidence, Swan said that the court would not address the second point mentioned in the appeal filed on behalf of Henley by his attorney, Robert King.

King argued that reckless endangerment is a vague charge and in such a nature is an unfair charge, according to the opinion. The point - because the court agreed with the first point - was moot.

Initially, Henley and Freeman both had been charged with second-degree murder; voluntary manslaughter; first-degree assault; third-degree assault; unauthorized use of a firearm during the commission of second-degree murder; and first-degree reckless endangerment.

A third defendant, 24-year-old Vincent Thompson Jr., was charged with the same offenses and was tried with Henley and Freeman in early May. The jury found Thompson not guilty, and Henley and Freeman were found guilty only of reckless endangerment after a nearly weeklong trial in V.I. Superior Court.

Superior Court Judge Adam Christian sentenced Freeman and Henley both to less than the five-year maximum they could have received.

Christian sentenced Freeman to four years of imprisonment, stating that the evidence was less circumstantial than that against Henley. Henley received two years of imprisonment, with one and a half of those years suspended, meaning he only had to serve six months.

Christian imposed two years of probation for Henley.

Christian explained that the V.I. Code allows the court to sentence a person to only six months incarceration if the judge is going to split the sentence between incarceration and probation.

The V.I. Code thus would not allow Christian to sentence Henley to two years of incarceration and two years probation, which the judge said would have been a more apt sentence.

"I believe a longer period of incarceration would be more appropriate," Christian said.

Christian justified his thinking by explaining that Henley had no previous criminal record, was in the midst of pursuing a college degree and had an employment record, and Christian said he felt that the evidence that led to Henley's conviction was mostly circumstantial.

At the time of the sentencing, King said that any sentence for reckless endangerment is bogus because reckless endangerment is not a clearly defined crime.

King said that the case was unfounded and his client's conviction was because the prosecution, represented at the time by Assistant Attorney General Edward Veronda, and the V.I. Police Department, in particular Detective Jose Allen, had fabricated details of the case to find Henley guilty.

Veronda responded, stating that no information provided by the prosecution was perjurious, though he admitted that there had been inconsistencies.

According to court documents and trial testimony, Abdullah, who was unarmed, was leaving Jaguars nightclub when he tossed a cup of liquid into the air. The cup landed on the hood of a truck Henley was driving as he, Freeman and Thompson also were leaving the club.

The accident so upset Henley that he confronted Abdullah and an argument ensued, attracting Thompson and Freeman to the area. Gunshots erupted, and Abdullah was shot 11 times.

Eyewitnesses placed all three defendants around the victim when the shots were fired, but no one testified that they had actually seen any of the three defendants draw a gun and shoot the victim.

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

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