Oct. 29, 2008 -- Dressed in a red Bureau of Corrections jumpsuit, 22-year-old Devon A. Frett kept biting his lower lip as he was escorted into V.I. Superior Court Wednesday morning, and he held his cuffed hands in front of him as he made his way to the defense table to sit, with his head down, beside his attorney.
Throughout the hearing, in which he was advised of his rights by V.I. Superior Court Judge Leon Kendall, Frett kept looking around the room and shaking his head, as two police officers described how Frett and an unidentified minor allegedly robbed, kidnapped and killed 27-year-old Gabriel L. Lerner sometime after 9 a.m. Sunday.
According to court documents, Frett had been convicted in July 2006 of unlawful sexual contact in the second degree and was sentenced to two-years in jail. Soon after his release, he was deported back to Tortola, government attorney Ernest Bason said during the hearing. The fact that Frett was in the territory illegally shows that he is a flight risk, Bason said as he asked Kendall to hold Frett without bail pending his trial.
"The court would normally ask questions of the defendant and make a determination as to whether he is a flight risk or danger to the community," Kendall said. "But we're going to forgo that. Based on the testimony and the charges, there's no question that the defendant has to be remanded."
Lerner, a judicial law clerk for Superior Court Judge Brenda J. Hollar, was reported missing around 1 p.m. Tuesday, after he had not shown up to work for two days. Police found his body shortly after midnight Wednesday. Frett and the minor were seen driving Lerner's car the day before, and managed to elude police officers after leading them on a high-speed car chase through the streets of St. Thomas.
The two were detained and brought in for questioning shortly after 6 p.m. Tuesday. Information provided by the minor -- who was discovered by police to be a runaway -- is what led police to Lerner's body, according to Police Detective Jason Marsh, who said that Lerner had stopped near Cassi Hill sometime after 9 a.m. Sunday to give Frett and the minor a ride to Red Hook.
"Mr. Lerner was on the way to Lindquist Beach for a Bible event," Marsh said. "Just after passing the Sapphire Beach area, Frett asked Mr. Lerner to pull over to the side of the road so he could pee. Mr. Frett got out, peed, came back and asked Mr. Lerner if he had ever been robbed before. Mr. Lerner said, 'No, are you going to rob me?' Mr. Frett said yes."
The minor told police that Lerner handed over his wallet, Marsh said.
"Mr. Frett put Mr. Lerner in the backseat of the vehicle," he explained. "Then he got into the driver's seat and the minor got into the passenger seat. They travelled to Friendly's Grocery on the north side. They pulled into a private driveway in Hull Bay after that, and Mr. Frett asked the minor if he knew where the button was for the trunk of the car."
The two put Lerner into the trunk before continuing to travel west, past Santa Maria and Bordeaux, Marsh said as he continued to recount the minor's testimony. In the area of Blue Water Bible College, Frett parked the car in the grass, near a pathway that led into the bushes, he added.
"Mr. Frett popped the trunk, Mr. Lerner got out, and the three walked down the path. The minor said that Mr. Frett had a gun with him the whole time," Marsh said. "As they walked down the path, Mr. Frett pointed the gun at Mr. Lerner. Mr. Lerner asked, 'So are you going to kill me?' Mr. Frett told him to turn around and fired a shot into the back of Mr. Lerner's head."
Frett and the minor then travelled back to Friendly's Grocery, where they tried to buy tint for the windows of the car, Marsh said. After discovering the store didn't sell tint, the duo then travelled to Western Auto, where they used Lerner's credit card to purchase the tint, he added. Afterward, Frett allegedly dropped the minor to the Midtown Guesthouse, where Frett had rented a room. The credit card was dropped in a nearby ditch, where police later found it, along with Lerner's court identification badge, Marsh said.
"The minor also gave instructions as to where the body could be found," Marsh said. "Investigators, along with the minor and his mother, went to the area and found Mr. Lerner's body, just like the minor had said, with a gunshot wound to the back of the head."
Frett did not corroborate the minor's statement when asked by police about what happened, Marsh said.
"Mr. Frett said he didn't drive the vehicle, that it was somebody else," he said. "And he denied having any involvement with the incident in Bordeaux." The minor also said that after Lerner's death, the two drove his car around "on and off" for the next few days until police caught them, he added.
Both Frett and the minor have been charged with first degree murder, kidnapping, robbery and possession of an unlicensed firearm. Frett has also been charged with third degree assault, reckless endangerment, reckless driving, unauthorized used of a vehicle, possession of stolen property, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, hit and run and failing to stop when ordered. The charges were filed against Frett Tuesday evening and stem from the car chase earlier in the day, during which Frett he crashed Lerner's car into a marked police unit in the Upper Scott Free area.
It is unknown at this time whether the minor faces similar charges in connection with the car chase.
Police and Justice Department officials announced during a press conference, held about an hour before Wednesday's advice of rights hearing, that Lerner's body had been found. Information continuously provided by community members over the past few days also helped to piece together the case, providing a "perfect model" of what could happen if the two sides continue to work together, they said.
"There's a certain amount of disconnect, certain social things that we need to try to correct," Police Commissioner James H. McCall said during the press conference. "If we have to fill every jail cell in this territory, we will do so. We've had enough. This community has had enough."
Details about the condition of Lerner's body, cause of death or a motive could not be provided by officials or investigators Wednesday. Some details are being withheld at this time in an effort to protect the integrity of the case and make sure it's not stalled during prosecution, according to Attorney General Vincent Frazer.
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