Former Port Authority Officer Bill John-Baptiste received a five-year sentence for kidnapping Thursday in the highly publicized public corruption case also involving two former V.I. Police officers, Enid Edwards and Francis Brooks.
Edwards’ sentencing was postponed to allow the prosecution time to respond to a recent court order. She will now be sentenced on June 21 along with Brooks, whose case had earlier been set on that date for medical reasons.
Family, friends and coworkers of John-Baptiste packed the courtroom Thursday and left in silence after he was taken into custody. A sober-looking Edwards, who is under house arrest, left the proceeding accompanied by a small group of women.
All three law enforcement officers were convicted in January 2011, John-Baptiste on the single charge of kidnapping, but Brooks and Edwards each on more than 20 counts including drug trafficking, extortion, kidnapping and robbery.
The counts against the police officers stemmed from numerous incidents over a period of several years. Charges against John-Baptiste all centered around an incident in 2008.
Judge Curtis Gomez issued an order Wednesday overriding the jury in part and acquitting Brooks and Edwards each on six of the counts against them, most of those involving a single incident. The action leaves Brooks facing sentencing on 19 counts and Edwards on 16. The order did not affect John-Baptiste’s conviction on the single count of kidnapping.
Gomez began the sentencing proceeding by saying the court’s order was more than 70 pages long and noting that the pre-sentence report was amended because of it. He asked all parties if they wanted to postpone sentencing given the recent developments.
Both sides, as well as Gomez, agreed that John-Baptiste’s sentencing should move forward, since there were no substantive changes to his case in the order.
U.S. Prosecutor Kim Lindquist asked for a postponement on Edwards’ sentencing, however. He said his office is still studying the order and may file a motion for reconsideration. Edwards’ attorney, Jay Shreenath, said they were ready to proceed, but Gomez said postponing her sentencing is “the fair thing to do” for both sides.
The rest of the proceeding was devoted to John-Baptiste.
His attorney, Robert King, did not ask for clemency or suggest a term of sentence. Instead he said his client continues to maintain his innocence. He said he had filed a motion to appeal the verdict which was to take effect as soon as the judge sentenced John-Baptiste.
According to the government’s case, John-Baptiste had an altercation with a female taxi driver, charging her with soliciting fares where she was not permitted to operate on Port Authority property. John-Baptiste took her into custody, drove her to two police commands, made unwanted sexual advances towards her and did not release her until she paid money to Edwards and Brooks.
Originally John-Baptiste was charged with several counts. His attorney argued that the trial jury was deadlocked and so compromised on a conviction on just one count. “It was as I feared,” King said, “that Mr. John-Baptiste would go down in a swirl.”
King also said he had objected at trial to testimony being given by a police officer about John-Baptiste’s duties since John-Baptiste was not a police officer but rather a Port Authority law enforcement officer, and that his appeal would rest in part on that.
The government recommended a 10-year sentence. A maxim of law is that a serious offense metes serious punishment, Lindquist said. The statute itself lists a sentence of from one to 20 years. “That is a proclamation of the seriousness of this crime generally,” Lindquist said.
He interpreted the jury’s action in acquitting on several counts and convicting on one almost directly opposite to King’s interpretation. Linquist said it is a sign that they had taken great care in their deliberations. In effect, he said, the jurors were saying they had no reasonable doubt as to that particular charge.
Finally, he said, John-Baptiste “abused his position of trust” and that a message needs to be sent not only to him but also to other officers that such behavior will not be tolerated.
In sentencing John-Baptiste to five years, Gomez said he had no reason to question the jury’s seriousness in its deliberations. “The jury had all the information. They were instructed in the law,” Gomez said.
He said the defendant’s record showed only one other “touch with the law” and that was a 2005 charge of kidnapping, of which he was acquitted.
Because of John-Baptiste’s financial situation, Gomez said he would not impose a fine or any fees.
King asked the judge to release John-Baptiste on bail pending the appeal and said he had numerous people on hand prepared to testify that the defendant is not a flight risk.
Gomez denied the request, and told King he has not heard a persuasive argument that he will even be granted a hearing by the appellate court. He added that under usual practice, John-Baptiste would have been taken into custody upon conviction, not be on house arrest until sentencing.
The case against the three officers was brought after an investigation into public corruption conducted by numerous federal agencies in conjunction with local authorities.