May 1, 2008 — Although the case against accused double murderers Luis Melendez and police officer Jeffrey Browne was severed and Browne's venue moved to St. Thomas Tuesday, a May 15 hearing will reconsider the order and the venue may not change after all.
Browne and Melendez have been charged with multiple counts of murder, attempted murder and other charges stemming from a deadly Christmas shooting spree in the JFK housing community.
Browne and Melendez are brothers-in-law. Browne was arrested Dec. 30. Melendez was already in custody after being picked up Christmas Day on an unrelated attempted murder charge in connection with a shooting Nov. 23 in Estate Bethlehem.
Both men have pleaded not guilty to all the charges. They are being held without bail.
On Monday, Superior Court Judge Francis D'Eramo drafted an order granting Browne's request for a change of venue and for Browne to be tried separately from Melendez. It was put into the court record on Tuesday.
D'Eramo's order said little about the arguments for or against severance and change of venue, but indicated the prosecution was told to file any opposition by April 18 and no motion was filed.
Prosecutors did file a motion — on April 28, the same day D'Eramo issued his order. The date typed on the document is April 14, but the filing date is April 28.
"It was a technical error," Deputy Attorney General Charlotte Poole-Davis said Thursday. "The motion was prepared, then there was a miscommunication between two attorneys, an assistant U.S. District Attorney and an assistant attorney general, where each one thought the other had filed it."
Apprised of this, D'Eramo scheduled the May 15 hearing in V.I. Superior Court on St. Croix to reconsider the order for separation and change of venue, Poole-Davis said.
The argument for moving the venue was that pre-trial publicity has made a fair trial on St. Croix impossible, but Poole-Davis said the contention has little merit.
"We don't think there has been any unusual amount of pre-trial publicity," she said Thursday. The territory's newspapers are all widely read both on St. Thomas and St. Croix, Poole-Davis said, so she sees no benefit from moving the case to St. Thomas. At the same time, it would be costly and inconvenient to fly possibly dozens of witnesses to St. Thomas, away from the scene of the crime, she said.
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