V.I. Supreme Court upholds conviction of man for murder of Contant woman
Published: October 8, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - The V.I. Supreme Court upheld the conviction of Nesta James, who was found guilty of murdering a Contant woman in 2009.
The body of Tameka Edwards was found shot to death in the backyard of a Contant home Aug. 23, 2009.
In January 2011, a jury found James and co-defendant Denalson Merrifield guilty on a range of charges in connection with the death of Edwards and the shooting of another man, Alphaeus Lettsome, who was wounded in the leg.
Both defendants appealed their convictions, and in June, the high court overturned the conviction of Merrifield. In an opinion published Friday, the court upheld James' conviction.
James was convicted of first-degree murder, first-degree assault and two counts of possession of a firearm connected to those charges.
During the trial, prosecutors said that James killed Edwards in retaliation for the shooting death of their friend, Jesse Smalls, who had been killed hours earlier outside the Smith Bay nightclub Club Lexus.
Smalls had accompanied Edwards and two friends, Myoshi McClean and Symore Brown, 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 outside the club with Smalls when five men walked by and entered the club. Smalls said 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.
After Smalls was gunned down, McClean sent text messages to her neighbors in Contant, including James and Merrifield, to notify them, according to court 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 during the trial. 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.
Lettsome testified that he drove Edwards home from the club that night, and when he dropped her off, a man came up to his truck and said, "Don't move." He shot into the truck, hitting Lettsome in the leg. Lettsome said he could only see the rifle, with a pillow case or sheet tied around it, and only saw one person run away from the truck after firing the shots.
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, James 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 James' motions.
In his appeal to the Supreme Court, James argued that there was insufficient evidence to support the conviction. The Supreme Court justices said based on the testimony, there was enough evidence to convict James of killing Edwards.
"Accordingly, the jury could have concluded that the evidence confirmed that James not only had the motive, intent, and ability to kill Edwards but he also believed that Edwards was complicit in the murder of his friend, Smalls," the court said in its opinion.
James also said his Sixth Amendment right to compulsory process had been violated when the court refused to let witnesses - three of the five men who shot Smalls - testify. The men had invoked their Fifth Amendment rights, stating that their testimony could incriminate themselves, and that is why the court refused their testimony, according to the Supreme Court opinion.
The court also struck down several other arguments made by James in an attempt to get his conviction overturned. James currently is serving a life sentence.
- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.