The trial of three men charged in connection with the murder of Almonzo Williams in 2009 on St. Croix is scheduled to begin on Oct. 17 in the V.I. Superior Court.
Friday, presiding judge Darryl Dean Donohue met with defense attorneys and the prosecutor for a status hearing and to rule on motions to dismiss filed by the defense.
Joh Williams, Khareem Hughes and Jalani Williams were charged with the suspected gang-related murder of Williams that occurred in Estate Mon Bijou in August 2009.
Michael A. Joseph, the attorney for Joh, said he’s looking forward to the trial upcoming trial and is convinced his client will win.
“I intend to win my case. When gunfire happens around here, people tend to see or imagine a lot of things,” Joseph said.
Jalani and Hughes’ attorneys, Charles Lockwood and Richard Hunter respectively, were hoping the judge would rule positively on their motions to dismiss on grounds that they hadn’t received timely discovery, but Donohue denied those and said the trial would still be set for Oct. 17.
The defense counsel also asked Donohue to release the names of witnesses so they could prepare for proper cross-examination, which caused a contentious court-debate between the prosecutor, Tom Sedar, and Joseph, Lockwood, and Hunter. In the end, Donohue told the prosecutor that they will have to produce the names to the defense by Oct. 12.
“There will be a denial to dismiss the matter; however the court finds it would be prudent for defendant to have an opportunity to prepare and investigate any biases with regards to if the trial is appropriate to turn the names of the witnesses over to defense so they can offer proper cross-examination,” Donohue said.
The murder occurred at approximately 1 a.m. on Aug. 2, at near Gertrude’s Restaurant on St. Croix where a dance was being held. Williams was killed by gunfire in a parking lot directly across the street from the restaurant on Hess Road.
According to testimony given by detective Richard Matthews in an October 2009 pretrial hearing, two police officers who responded shortly after the shooting witnessed a male dressed in black jump through the passenger-side window of a Honda Accord and take the officers on a high-speed chase.
Matthews said after calling for backup, two other officers who were patrolling the area where the Honda was headed and set up a partial roadblock; when the Honda refused to stop, the original responding police officers continued pursuing the car until it collided with a truck near Christiansted.
Then, Matthews said, the two people in the Honda fled on foot and were later apprehended. Jalani, who was 16 at the time and was the apparent driver, was arrested along with 18-year-old passenger Khareem Hughes. Both suspects were charged with possession of unlicensed firearms after officers allegedly found two guns inside the vehicle.
According to Matthews, shell-casings recovered from the scene of the murder, matched one of the weapons inside the vehicle, and on Oct. 15, Hughes and Jalani were re-arrested and charged with first-degree murder, first-degree assault, and first-degree reckless endangerment for the crime. Jalani has been bound over to face charges as an adult.
Four days after the murder, Joh who was 25 at the time, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder, first-degree assault and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence presumably because of witness interviews conducted by Matthews.
According to Matthews’ testimony, two witnesses identified Joh from a photo array, claiming that they saw Joh shooting Williams. A week later, one witness also identified Jalani as a shooter, but was never identified in a photo array.
Williams’s murder has been possibly linked to two other homicides since his death: Marlin Roberts, age 24, was murdered in what police said was retaliation for the Williams murder. Roberts was brother to one of two surviving victims in the Williams shooting, then-Police Commissioner Novelle Francis said at the time. “Clearly these recent killings are acts of retaliation," Francis said.
Then, in June of this year, 22-year old Rasenjoni Williams and his 18-year old, pregnant newlywed wife Amaria Remie Williams were murdered while walking on the beach just after noon on June 18. Rasenjoni was Joh’s brother, and was linked by police to the string of killings.
Due to these murders, Sader intends to write a separate motion to Donohue so that the names don’t get released because, he said, he fears for their safety.