V.I. Supreme Court scolds prosecution for using Scripture but upholds man's conviction of rape

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ST. THOMAS - The V.I. Supreme Court has upheld Ralph Brathwaite Jr.'s conviction for raping a 12-year-old girl, stating that the prosecution's use of Scripture in closing arguments was not cause to reverse the conviction.

In June 2011, a jury found Brathwaite guilty of five counts, including first-degree aggravated rape, for sexually attacking the child on July 30 and Sept. 10, 2010.

Brathwaite was arrested on Oct. 25, 2010, after the victim told her mother that he raped her seven times in 2010 - three times in March and one time each in April, May and July.

According to testimony at the trial, the child did not tell her mother about the assaults until Aug. 10, 2010, because Brathwaite had threatened that if she told anyone, he would come to her house and shoot her family.

When the child told her mother, they went to the police station and reported the attacks.

He raped her again in September, and the child's mother took her to the hospital to have a rape kit done.

Brathwaite was convicted and later sentenced to 60 years in prison, which he is currently serving at Golden Grove Adult Correctional Facility.

After his conviction he filed an appeal, arguing that the prosecution's references to Bible passages in closing arguments and at sentencing was improper and unfairly prejudiced the jury against him.

Assistant Attorneys General Kelly Evans and Ed Veronda prosecuted the case.

The Supreme Court opinion said that the religious references were in error because they seemed to have the purpose of seeking a harsher sentence for Brathwaite based on religious tenets.

"However, we find that on the present record it is clear beyond a reasonable doubt that this error did not seriously affect the fairness or integrity of the sentencing proceedings. While we admonish the People for using biblical references or invoking religiosity at sentencing, and we are troubled by the People's blatant attempt to sway the trial court into giving a harsher sentence based on religious principles, we do not find that the comments constituted reversible error," Supreme Court Justice Alva Swan wrote in the court's opinion.

In closing arguments, the prosecutor referenced Pontius Pilate asking Jesus "What is truth?" not knowing that truth was standing in front of him.

At the sentencing hearing, the prosecutor referenced Genesis 34 about the rape of a girl and a whole town of people who were killed as punishment.

According to the high court's opinion, the prosecutor also said: "Your honor, Jesus said suffer the little children unto me. He said it is better for a mill stone to be placed around their necks and cast into the sea that for them to be injured, your honor."

On July 12, 2013, Brathwaite was arrested in connection with stabbing to death a 61-year-old inmate who was serving a life term at Golden Grove. After the incident, Corrections officers recovered an orange folding knife, which they believe was the weapon that Brathwaite used to kill the victim, Humphrey Balson.

He has been charged with first-degree murder; first-degree assault; third-degree assault; possession of a dangerous weapon during the commission of a violent crime; and introducing dangerous prison contraband.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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