The mother and sister of Almonzo Williams sat in the front row sobbing quietly Tuesday, as prosecuting attorney, Tom Sedar, presented his case in the V.I. Superior Court against the three suspects charged with William’s 2009 murder.
The defense painted a very different picture in their opening statements in the trial against Joh Williams, Jalani Williams, and Khareem Hughes, who were charged with the suspected gang-related murder of Almonzo, which occurred Aug. 2, 2009, in Estate Mon Bijou on St. Croix.
“When you see the autopsy report, you’ll see a diagram of a body, Almonzo Williams, who never had a chance,” Sedar told the 16-member jury. “Almonzo Williams laid on that ground bleeding with not one, not two, but 13 bullets.”
Sedar explained that, in addition to Almonzo, two other victims were shot twice, and at the murder scene, bullets were found matching a gun Jalani was carrying after he was caught fleeing the scene and leading officers on a wild car chase.
The murder occurred near Gertrude’s Restaurant on St. Croix, in a parking lot directly across the street from the restaurant on Hess Road. According to statements by the defense, four different types of shell casings were found there.
Michael A. Joseph, the attorney for Joh said, “My brother didn’t tell you that there was four different types of shell casings found at the scene.” The evidence will show that his house and car were searched and there was not a thing linking him – simply some people gonna come in and say they saw him.”
“That night there were a lot of people – not just inside, but outside and you know what else? Jalani’s attorney, Charles Lockwood said. “There were a lot of guns that night. There were no fewer than four weapons used. The government will attempt to show you that just because my client left the scene, he was at fault.”
Richard Hunter, Hughes’s attorney said that there were 47 bullet shells at the crime scene, and that just because his client left quickly in his car (allegedly with Jalani), it doesn’t make him guilty. Hunter explained that Hughes had no weapons or contraband on him and therefore there wasn’t any evidence to convict him.
According to presiding judge Darryl Dean Donohue, the three defendants are charged with first-degree murder, first and third-degree assault, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence, and first-degree reckless endangerment.
According to an October 2009 pre-trial hearing, the lead detective in the case, Richard Matthews said in his testimony that two police officers witnessed a male dressed in black jump through the passenger-side window of a Honda Accord and lead officers on a high-speed chase. When the vehicle finally was stopped after colliding with a truck, Jalani, who was 16 at the time, was arrested along with 18-year-old Hughes after both fled the collision on foot, Matthews said.
After the opening statements and a brief testimony about the scene of the accident given by retired V.I. Police Department officer Paul Schuster, the most contested witness in the trial, Arkiesa Hughes, took the stand.
Arkiesa, Hughes’s aunt, was only admitted as a witness hours before the trial began because the defense counsel filed a motion to suppress her testimony.
Defense attorneys argued she shouldn’t be admitted because she circled both Jalani and Joh’s pictures in photo-lineups, and the attorneys questioned the methods that Matthews used in getting her statement.
Additionally, when Arkiesa was on the stand, she disputed all of her own signed statements, which were obtained in two interviews by Matthews where Arkiesa supposedly fingered two of the defendants, Jalani and Joh.
During the trial, Arkiesa contradicted her own verbal statements several times throughout the day, causing defense attorneys to object after almost every other question posed by Sedar. She had blood on her shoes the night of the murder, but claimed on the stand she wasn’t anywhere near the shooting, although the statements signed by her states she saw “Lion,” Joh’s nickname, with a gun.
Finally, after hours of back-and-forth volleying, Arkiesa said she never read over her statements prior to signing them. She also admitted she couldn’t read the English language.
Judge Donohue dismissed the jury and asked all attorneys and Arkiesa to come to his bench for a thirty-minute delay. Donohue quietly informed Arkiesa about the rules of perjury.
“If you make knowingly false statements, we will charge and prosecute you,” he said.
When the jury came back, Sader put questions to Arkiesa suggesting that she changed her statements because she was being threatened:
“Isn’t it true that you’re afraid of ‘Lion’?” Sader asked. “Isn’t it true that you’re getting pressured from your family?”
Arkiesa responded “No” to both questions. Donohue, after four hours of Arkiesa’s testimony, asked to call it a day. He sent the jury home at 6 p.m.
Almonzo’s murder has possibly been linked to three other homicides. The first, Marlin Roberts, 24, was murdered in what police said was retaliation for Almonzo’s murder. Roberts was a brother of one of two surviving victims in the Almonzo shooting.
The second and third victims, Rasenjoni Williams, 22, and Amaria Remie Williams, 18, Rasenjoni’s pregnant and newlywed wife, were murdered while walking on the beach on June 18. Rasenjoni was Joh’s brother, and was also linked by police to a string of killings.
The trial will resume at 9 a.m., Wednesday.