July 16, 2004 – The government will not prosecute the youth charged last January with the killing of another teen-ager — or any of the other persons implicated in the fighting that resulted in the fatal stabbing in Christiansted of Jeffrey Bennett, Attorney General Iver Stridiron said on Friday. At least not at this time.
Stridiron issued a nine-page statement detailing his findings in reviewing the case and stating that it fell to him "to decide whether a chargeable offense was committed on Jan. 18, 2004, when Jeffrey Bennett was stabbed and killed, allegedly by another teen-ager."
Writing at times in the first person, Stridiron devotes five pages to documenting who told authorities what concerning the events that transpired on the night of Jan. 18, following a Central High School Bilingual Club party at the Mambo nightclub in Christiansted.
On the sixth page, he states his finding that the defendant, Lawrence De Windt, "would have a successful self-defense argument if this matter were to proceed to trial." He says his conclusion that the killing was a "justifiable homicide" is based in part on statements of "various credible and objective witnesses," including "an adult male parent who was himself hit in the head as he tried to break up the fight."
The document is remarkable for its identifying of the numerous juvenile figures in the case by name. And Stridiron states that DeWindt and his family had been placed in the Justice Department's Victim/Witness Protection Program.
He also states that witnesses told authorities of feuding that has been going on for years between youths of Puerto Rican and Dominicano heritage on St. Croix, "including incidents in and around the public schools." According to the statement, that is what prompted the events on the night of Jan. 18.
Bennett, 17, a Clifton Hill resident who was taking night classes at Education Complex, died at Juan F. Luis Hospital that night. Another youth, Nathan Torres, was hospitalized with stab wounds, police said.(See "Teen-ager First St. Croix Homicide Victim of 2004".)
Stridiron, citing "credible statements" of witnesses, said DeWindt, 16, a native of the Dominican Republic, was struck in the back of the head as he left the nightclub after a youth of Puerto Rican heritage offered $10 to anyone who would "punch the first 'Santo' who walked down the stairs." Santo Domingo is the capital of the Dominican Republic.
Witnesses, Stridiron said, indicated that Torres punched De Windt then was joined by Bennett and Aurelio Rivera in attacking De Windt. When DeWindt ran to a nearby car, "witnesses stated that he was dragged out of the car by Torres, Bennett and Rivera as they continued to beat him." De Windt pulled a knife "during the latter part of the fight," Torres was stabbed in the chest and face, and Bennett was stabbed in the chest.
According to Stridiron, Torres said he acted in self-defense after De Windt hit him and said that two other young men, brothers Jeury and Jose Guerrero, jumped out of a red car and Jeury stabbed Bennett. Torres also said there were two separate fights his with De Windt and Bennett's with the Guerrero brothers.
Rivera and two other youths, Hector Torres and one identified only as "Cuba," gave similar accounts, Stridiron said.
However, "Cuba" — the person who put up the $10, according to Stridiron — told authorities he had been at the Mambo, but "denied seeing any fights, and he denied knowing anything about a bet."
The Guerrero brothers told police that they, too, had been at the Mambo but "that they left in their vehicle before any fighting began." And, Stridiron wrote, "at least two credible and objective witnesses," including the parent struck in the head, substantiated the Guerreros' account. One of those witnesses said both Nathan Torres and DeWindt pulled knives and that Torres dropped his weapon when De Windt stabbed him.
Stridiron said he believes the account of Jeury Guerrero stabbing Bennett "is not truthful" and is "certainly inconsistent with the statements of other, credible witnesses."
Having decided not to prosecute De Windt, Stridiron said, the Justice Department considered charging Nathan Torres, Rivera and "Cuba" with the homicide but concluded that the government "would have a most difficult time meeting its burden of proof under the facts of the case."
Further, he said, "we considered charging Nathan, Aurelio and Cuba with the assault and battery on De Windt. However, we determined that to do so would require the government to remove De Windt from the Victim/Witness Protection Program and possibly expose him to further harm. We therefore decline to do so."
Stridiron said he issued his report in part "to inform, alert and counsel" youths and their parents to the dangers posed by disputes "which may escalate from verbal confrontations to physical altercations, and to serious injury or death."
While the government "is not in a position to charge anyone with the death of Jeffrey Bennett at this time," he wrote, "the matter shall remain open and be revisited if additional witnesses come forward."
Bennetts death was the first homicide of 2004 recorded on St. Croix. There have been 10 others since.
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