Jurors began deliberating Wednesday evening over the fate of three V.I. law enforcement officers charged with corruption, after hearing several hours of compelling final arguments from both prosecution and defense counsel.
VIPD officers Enid Edwards and Francis Brooks and Port Authority officer Bill John-Baptiste have been on trial since Jan. 3, facing more than two-dozen local and federal counts in relation to several incidents of alleged corruption that occurred between 2000 and 2008.
Before attorneys began closing arguments Wednesday, Judge Curtis Gomez dismissed one final count from the original 54-count indictment against the three, bringing to 22 the total number of counts that have been dismissed for lack of evidence.
The count that was dismissed Wednesday was for racketeering extortion. The charges that remain include those for drug trafficking, conspiracy, kidnapping, assault, extortion, structuring, robbery, and bribery.
The dismissals do not bode well for the prosecution, which nonetheless made a strong case against the three officers in closing remarks. Attorney Kim Lindquist thundered through his hour-long statement, repeatedly stressing the officers’ alleged misuse of their power for personal gain.
"If abuse of authority is the theme of this case, then the motto is ‘You got to take care of me now,’" he began. "And if you don’t, I’ll make life difficult for you."
Lindquist was paraphrasing comments Edwards made on covertly recorded video tape to FBI informant Elias Deeb. She and Brooks allegedly procured a driver’s license for Deeb in exchange for $900 and the promise not to report his illegal alien status.
In the video, Edwards is heard saying "I going to get it for you this morning," then "How much you take out?" to which Deeb replied, "I take out $400."
Lindquist hammered at the testimony Edwards gave on the stand Monday, in which she came across as argumentative and evasive when answering questions about the contents of the video and audio.
"You compare what you heard in those recordings with what you heard her say in court," he implored the jury. "Recordings don’t lie."
When summarizing the evidence against John-Baptiste regarding the April 2, 2008 assault on taxi driver Yvese Calixte, Lindquist used John-Baptiste’s words against him, albeit through a witness.
Calixte was arrested by John-Baptiste at the Red Hook ferry terminal for refusing to stop soliciting for fares. Calixte claims that he then assaulted her, and tried to extort $1,000 from her and boyfriend Jossenel Marino to keep her out of jail.
"You’ll have to consider Marino’s testimony that John-Baptiste approached him and apologized for putting his hands on his woman," Lindquist said. "That’s the evidence that really explains what happened at Red Hook — from the mouth of the man."
In his summation, Edwards’ attorney, Jay Shreenath, focused on what he felt were credibility issues with the government’s witnesses.
"The witnesses don’t have minor credibility problems, they have major problems," he said. "They are motivated by three things: money, drugs and deals."
Shreenath noted that Deeb was paid a large sum of money by the FBI to be an informant, and implied that he may have just been telling the FBI what they wanted to hear so he could continue to collect payment.
Other witnesses, such as convicted drug dealers Kelvin Moses and John Lindquist, reportedly cut deals with prosecutors to cut their jail time in return for their testimony. Their testimony was related to charges of drug trafficking against the defendants.
Shreenath told the jury such witnesses were motivated only by personal gain, not the truth.
"John Lindquist had nothing to lose, and his story fit the government’s agenda," he said. "How do you benefit from that situation? Give the government what they want. But there’s no corroboration at all for his story."
Shreenath was particularly harsh in his criticism of the structuring charges against Edwards. The crime of structuring involves purposely arranging monetary transactions to avoid legal reporting requirements.
"Not a single witness said my client was trying to avoid reporting requirements," he said. "She bought and sold jewelry, built a house. There’s no evidence she did anything illegal with her money. She’s done everything by the book."
Robert King, John-Baptiste’s attorney, and George Hodge, Brooks’ attorney, took similar approaches to Shreenath by attacking the credibility and inconsistency of some witnesses.
"The government has dug deep into its bag of liars, convicts and reprobates to make its case," King said.
He singled out Calixte in particular as a totally unreliable witness. He claimed that money is her primary motivation, as evidenced by a civil suit she brought against John-Baptiste before the criminal case was filed. He also pointed out that her sexual assault accusations were not made until more than a year after her initial police report.
"She is a liar of real skill," King said. "She hides behind a translator and pretends not to speak English, when she speaks it well. She fakes it so she can tell a story that is not true. The sexual assault is a fairy tale, it’s a lie. A lie intended to enhance her lawsuit."
Hodge, during his lengthy summation, went through the evidence against Brooks piece by piece, dismantling it and pointing out holes and inconsistencies. He also attacked John Lindquist’s credibility, and that of Troy Willocks, another drug dealer who alleged that Brooks took drugs off some of his acquaintances and pocketed them, but made no arrests.
"They knew they’d have to make serious allegations [against Brooks] to get credit for significant time off their sentences," Hodge said, echoing Shreenath’s claims about the mens’ motivation.
Willocks has pleaded guilty to a federal charge of possession with intent to distribute cocaine. He is cooperating with the government in return for a reduction in his sentence. Hodge also took issue with the fact that Willocks’ allegation is all but unproveable, because the the man Brooks allegedly took the drugs from is dead.
The jury will continue its deliberations on Thursday.