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Sells Pleads Innocent to Charges

Oct. 20, 2005 — Robert Sells, a white man charged with four allegedly racially motivated crimes against a black woman that sparked racial discussions across the territory, pleaded innocent Thursday morning in Superior Court on St. Thomas.
Sells, 50, was charged with two counts of felony intimidation, aggravated assault and battery, and disturbing the peace stemming from a June 3 confrontation with Esther Frett, a black woman who owned a business in the same building as Sells.
Frett told police Sells had used racial slurs to intimidate her for more than two years and bumped her – nearly knocking her over — in June.
He was released on $12,000 bail to return to court Nov. 3.
The feud was the initial spark that ignited recent racial tension in normally peaceful St. John.
Since 2003, Frett has filed at least six police reports alleging racial intimidation by Sells and others.
According to police, the FBI started investigating racist graffiti scrawled on Frett's car and home in June.
On Aug. 30, Frett told police she had been kidnapped, beaten and raped by three white men who then glued her lips shut and threw her into the sea.
Police have not named Sells or anyone else as suspects in the rape or graffiti reports.
Hundreds of people from around the islands marched through the streets of Cruz Bay on Oct. 1 demanding police make arrests in the case.
Backlash from the reported crimes has been blamed for two fires, one confirmed by officials to be an arson.
The first fire destroyed Sells' jeep. The second fire, less than a day later, destroyed his Asian imports store, Close Reach Imports. Federal investigators have not said whether the second fire was arson.
The FBI and ATF are investigating the fires, police said.
Some 76 percent of the territory's population of 110,000 identifies itself as black, 13 percent white.

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