V.I. Supreme Court overturns Merrifield murder conviction
Published: June 23, 2012
Font size: [A] [A] [A]
ST. THOMAS - The V.I. Supreme Court has reversed the conviction of Denalson Merrifield, who had been found guilty on a number of charges related to the murder of Tameka Edwards, whose body was found Aug. 23, 2009, in Contant.
In January 2011, a jury found Merrifield and co-defendant Nesta James guilty on a range of charges in connection to the death of Edwards and the shooting of another man, Alphaeus Lettsome, who was wounded in the leg as he drove away after dropping off Edwards at her house in Contant.
Merrifield was found guilty of aiding and abetting first-degree murder, first-degree assault and unauthorized possession of a firearm during a crime of violence in connection with Edward's killing. Merrifield was acquitted of any charges related to the shooting of Lettsome.
Prosecutors said that James and Merrifield killed Edwards in retaliation for the shooting death of their friend, Jesse Smalls, who had been killed hours earlier outside Club Lexus in Smith Bay while in Edwards' company.
Smalls had accompanied Edwards and another friend, Myoshi McClean, to Club Lexus, where McClean worked as a bartender.
According to a statement Edwards had given to police shortly after Smalls was gunned down, Edwards was inside the club with Smalls when five men came inside. Smalls said he felt "bad vibes," so Edwards and Smalls went outside. Smalls kept repeating that he felt "bad vibes," and minutes later, gunfire erupted and Smalls was shot to death, Edwards' told police.
Edwards told police she saw two of the five men with guns, and she identified one of the shooters in a police photo array. To this day, that person has not been questioned or charged in connection with Smalls' slaying, according to testimony elicited in court.
After Smalls was gunned down, McClean sent text messages to her neighbors in Contant, including James and Merrifield, to notify them, according to testimony. Later on the morning of Aug. 22, James and Merrifield showed up at McClean's house, according to testimony. James was angrily waving around a handgun, and both men were blaming McClean and Edwards for setting up Smalls to be killed, although McClean told them they had nothing to do with Smalls' death, according to testimony.
James and Merrifield left, but when they returned a short while later, James was carrying a machine gun wrapped in a sheet or pillowcase, still asking for Edwards, saying they would kill her, McClean testified. James and Merrifield left again, and 10 minutes later, James returned with another man who was calmer and was not armed, McClean said. The man asked McClean why Smalls had been killed, but McClean insisted she and Edwards had no involvement in the killing, according to court testimony.
When James and the man left, McClean left and spent the night at Paradise Point, she testified. When McClean returned to her house the following day, she discovered Edwards' bullet-riddled body in her back yard.
Edwards had been shot in the vagina, right leg and back.
According to the Supreme Court's opinion, the defense moved for acquittal after the people rested their case, but the trial judge denied it. The defense renewed the motion after its own case, and again, it was denied.
Following the verdicts, Merrifield again made a motion for a Rule 29 Judgment of Acquittal, and also moved for a mistrial or a new trial. During the sentencing hearing, the trial court again denied Merrifield's motions.
Merrifield then filed an appeal with the V.I. Supreme Court, stating that the Rule 29 motion should have been granted and that there was not enough evidence for his conviction.
In the opinion filed by the V.I. Supreme Court June 15, the appellate court sided with Merrifield.
"The evidence presented at trial, as recited in detail above, was insufficient to support a finding beyond a reasonable doubt that Merrifield aided and abetted James in killing Edwards," the high court said.
"The only evidence of Merrifield's presence at the crime scene related to events well before Edwards' demise, during the first three confrontations with McClean. However, during James' last visit to McClean's home, Merrifield was absent, and there is no evidence of his association with James after the earlier visits that night," the Supreme Court ruled.
"For the reasons explicated above, we vacate the trial court's June 28, 2011 Judgment and Commitment, reverse Merrifield's convictions on all charges, and direct the trial court to enter a judgment of acquittal on all charges," the opinion said.
- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email email@example.com.