Judge Recuses Herself, But ATF Agent's Trial to Go Forward

Opting to voluntarily remove herself from a situation she said had turned into a "circus," V.I. Superior Court Judge Brenda J. Hollar said the trial against federal agent William Clark will still go ahead as planned Monday, but with a new face at the bench.

Hollar’s decision to pass the case onto senior sitting Judge Edgar D. Ross came on the heels of a motion from Clark’s camp demanding that Hollar recuse herself from presiding over the trial. The 10-page motion filed last week claimed Hollar is biased against Clark and his defense team, and showed her "lack of neutrality" by recently calling an assistant attorney general, who has since retired, and having a 30-minute conversation with him about the case. According to the motion, the phone call took place prior to a pre-trial hearing for Clark.

Excerpts from court transcripts included in the motion indicated that Hollar has admitted to having a conversation with now former assistant attorney general Jesse Bethel, but said it was not improper. In a recent phone interview, Bethel also confirmed he had talked to Hollar and that the discussion mainly centered on his upcoming retirement.

In a strongly worded order handed down Thursday, Hollar said Clark’s defnse team has engaged in "reckless and unrelenting tactics," ending with the motion for recusal that Hollar said had the effect of "throwing" her "under the bus."

While denying the motion, Hollar still said she refuses to "become the primary focus of the defense’s ever-moving target, to create any taint of the jury pool, or in any way obfuscate the true issues involved in this matter." While passing the case onto Ross, Hollar added that the defense’s "desperate last-minute maneuvers" won’t stop the trial from continuing.

Clark, a special agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), has been charged with second-degree murder — along with voluntary manslaughter and using a dangerous weapon during the commission of a crime of violence — for the September 2008 shooting death of Marcus Sukow.

Clark’s involvement in the shooting is at the heart of the case, as defense attorneys have argued that he was simply doing his job by intervening in a violent domestic dispute between Sukow and his girlfriend, Marguerite Duncan. The prosecution, however, has stuck to the story outlined in various statements and affidavits; namely, that Clark intervened after Sukow’s girlfriend asked him for a ride, then fired at Sukow after he struck Clark’s car with a flashlight.

Ross made his first appearance in the case Friday, with a final pre-trial conference in Superior Court. Over the course of the hearing, the judge kept the ball in the defense’s court by allowing them to move forward with subpoenas already issued for various high-profile witnesses, including Gov. John deJongh Jr., former Police Commissioner James McCall and District Police Chief Rodney Querrard.

The defense also issued subpoenas for V.I. Attorney General Vincent Frazer and four assistant attorneys general, along with two police detectives they claimed Duncan gave statements to at the scene. It is not clear whether these individuals will testify during trial, but defense attorneys have argued that they should be present since Duncan allegedly recanted her original statements at the scene, and they could provide corroborating evidence.

The other person who might be hitting the stand during trial is Duncan’s attorney Marjorie Rawls Roberts, who apparently took Duncan down to the police station after the shooting occurred. While the government has attempted to quash the defense’s subpoena for Roberts, Ross denied that motion Friday, after it was argued that Duncan recanted after she allegedly told one of the detectives on the case that Sukow had been "out of control" that day and that Clark had no choice but to shoot him.

Ross also denied a government motion for a change of venue, along with a defense motion to dismiss the case without prejudice. He also shot down attempts to have the trial pushed back a few days so the defense could make sure they had all discovery documents.

The trial, which starts 9 a.m. Monday with jury selection, is expected to last for seven days.

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