Aug.8, 2006 -- In a courtroom filled Monday with many St. John friends -- including the ex-wife of murder victim David Geiger -- Geiger's 14-year-old son, Nathan, told the story of what his life has been like since Oct. 29, 2005, the day his father was murdered and he was nearly beaten to death.
Sitting a few feet away from Geiger was defendant Rennell Lettsome, on trial for the murder of David Geiger and the attempted murder of Nathan, along with several other charges including arson.
Lettsome presented a substantially altered appearance from published photos of him wearing dreadlocks. Alongside his attorney, Pedro Williams, Lettsome sat looking solemn, his locks replaced by a close-cropped haircut, dressed in a white polo shirt, neatly pressed khaki pants and black sandals.
Nathan, a tall, slender young man, was dressed in a blue long-sleeved shirt and dress pants.
Asked by prosecutor Ernest Bason, chief of the V.I. Justice Department's Criminal Division, to describe the events of the evening of last Oct. 28 and early morning of Oct. 29, Geiger said he had gone to his father's Estate Grunwald home on St. John that evening and had watched TV and had snacks with his father. He said that a couple times in the evening he thought he had seen someone outside the home, but he looked outside and yelled to whomever to go away, but saw no one.
"I went to bed, and my father came in the bedroom with me and told me he loved me, and slammed the bedroom door shut and locked, 'cause it won't shut otherwise," Geiger said, adding that was probably around 10:30 or 11 p.m.
"I have no memory of what happened after I fell asleep," Geiger said. "The next thing I knew was when I woke up in a hospital bed in Puerto Rico."
Bason asked Geiger to explain how his life has changed since that evening. "I don't have my father," Geiger answered. Describing a scar on the back of his head which goes from ear to ear, and several more scars on his face and head, Geiger -- who has been in four hospitals so far -- said, "I have to have more surgery on Aug. 29. They are going to fuse a hole in my skull and use bone marrow to replace the hole. I will have titanium screws in my head. I have to take seven pills a day now, and will for the rest of my life. My taste and smell are messed up and that will affect me forever."
Geiger described his life before last year as a "good, normal" one. "I went fishing with my dad, and I had a lot of friends; we looked out for each other. I played football at school, went to J'ouvert, listened to Jam Band," he said. Geiger now attends the ninth grade at a school in the states, where he said, "The kids don't like me."
Upon further questioning from Bason, Geiger said he knew Lettsome, "but not well." He also said he knew Amber Taylor. He said his father had "hung out" with Taylor, but that he didn't "trust" her. He said he thought that she was "thiefing" money from his father. Geiger said he knew his father kept money in his home, "because he didn't trust the banks," but he said he did not know where his father kept the cash.
Taylor, described as a 21-year-old white woman, is the ex-girlfriend of Lettsome and the mother of his son. She was housesitting for Geiger before the incident occurred. She told police investigators that her friend Tullius Stewart had stolen $50,000 from Geiger's home when she was housesitting.
In an affidavit, Taylor told authorities that she had told Lettsome of the burglary six days later and that Lettsome, after checking himself, Taylor and her two children into a St. Thomas hotel, went to Geiger's house to get more money Taylor had told him was there. She said Lettsome returned to the hotel the next day and told her he had killed Geiger.
Although her affidavit is the basis for arrest warrants for Lettsome and three others -- Stewart, Robert Ferguson and Nestor Colaire -- Bason said Taylor will not be called to testify. ( See "Fourth Man Arrested in Geiger Murder Case"). Taylor went to Florida with the help of the V. I. government, Bason said.
Before the trial Monday, defense attorney Pedro Williams told Judge Brenda Hollar that he was disappointed that Taylor would not appear. Hollar noted that Taylor started the whole series of events by telling Stewart that there was money in Gieger's house.
Williams suggested that Lettsome's confession may have been to protect Taylor, the mother of his child. He cautioned the jury, indicating Lettsome sitting beside him, "Here sits an innocent man," and he reminded them, "people don't always tell the truth."
Williams painted Lettsome as Taylor's dupe. He said Lettsome was a "quiet person, not violent, and in love with Taylor." He said, "Rennell Lettsome would take care of the children, while Taylor went out partying. He is a loving father." He added, "And Taylor never reported the missing money to the police.
"While somebody needs to pay for what happened, Lettsome is not the person," Williams said.
Bason, in his opening statement, said, "This trial is all about 'home sweet home.' If you can't be safe in your own home, where can you?" He described in detail how Lettsome had entered Geiger's home, after waiting outside for several hours, murdered Geiger by strangling him, stabbing him, and beating him with a pipe. Lettsome then beat Nathan Geiger senseless with the pipe and left him for dead, Bason said.
The trial opened with several of Geiger's neighbors and downstairs tenants who described how they found Geiger's house in flames and pulled the barely alive Nathan from the house on the morning of Oct. 29.
After Nathan Geiger's testimony, B.V.I. Police Constable Clyde Farrington described how Lettsome had come into the police station on the morning of Nov. 27. He said Lettsome came in, wandered around in the lobby, then picked up a copy of a Tortola newspaper, and pointed to a photo of himself in as a wanted man. "I'm this guy," he said.
Farrington said he then summoned B.V.I. Police Detective Donna Monsanto.
On the stand, Monsanto testified that the man in the lobby said, "I did it, but it didn't happen the way the papers have it."
Lettsome had a bag with him at the time of his arrest containing a rasta wig, a woman's sarong, a green purse, a camera and a camcorder, Monsanto said.
Lettsome waived his right to remain silent and made a full confession, which he signed, Monsanto said. Lettsome told Monsanto he had taken a dingy from Coral Bay and had driven it to Tortola. Monsanto arrested Lettsome on suspicion of illegal entry into the British Virgin Islands, and then called the U.S.V.I. authorities.
VIPD Police Detective Delbert Phipps, along with two other detectives, came to Tortola, where he obtained another confession from Lettsome in a question-and-answer format. Phipps read the entire confession to the court. Phipps noted that Lettsome had been informed of his Miranda rights, which he waived.
Lettsome described in detail finding the pipe outside Geiger's house, and waiting outside. He said he was hoping Nathan would not be home. He told how he had entered the home, taken a knife from the kitchen, stabbed then strangled Geiger and then beat the son.
"I was hoping he [Nathan] would just fall, but I had to hit him a few times," the signed statement said.
Lettsome allegedly left the house after the murder and went to his friend Nestor Colaire's house to get him and Ferguson to return to Geiger's house to set it on fire to destroy evidence.
After he set the fire, the statement says, Lettsome honked the horn on Geiger's car a number of times to alert the downstairs tenants. "I knew there was a mother with a small child there," he said.
Asked by Phipps in the statement why he had gone to Geiger's house that night, Lettsome replied, "To kill him." Phipps asked Lettsome why. "That's just me," Lettsome replied. "Do you understand English?" Phipps asked, to which Lettsome answered he did.
Phipps said the next day on St. Thomas, Lettsome would not sign another statement. "He got upset when questions about the missing money came up," Phipps said. According to Phipps, Lettsome said, "I confessed to the murder, but I am finished. I am done."
Phipps said there is no way Lettsome, who subsequently has pleaded not guilty, could have known the intimate details of murder scene unless he had been there. He said no information had been published in the media about the crime scene when Lettsome made his confessions.
Though Lettsome had sat solemnly through more than nine hours of testimony Monday, after the jury left the courtroom, and his handcuffs were replaced, Lettsome grinned widely and waved to someone in the audience.
Bason is expected to call two DNA experts from the FBI who are expected to link DNA evidence from the crime scene to Lettsome.
Bason said the prosecution should finish with its witnesses on Tuesday. Williams said defense witnesses will begin Wednesday. Judge Brenda Hollar said the trial should be finished by the end of the week.
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