The V.I. Supreme Court recently overturned Joh Williams and Khareem Hughes’ convictions and Jalani Williams’ sentence in the murder of Almonzo Williams, remanding Joh Williams and Hughes for retrial and Jalani Williams for re-sentencing.
Almonzo Williams, 25, was gunned down outside a St. Croix dance in 2009. In 2011, a St. Croix jury found 30-year-old Joh Williams and 18-year-old Jalani Williams guilty of first-degree murder, first-degree assault, unauthorized possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence, and reckless endangerment. Hughes, then 20, the purported getaway driver, was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment, but not murder.
Joh Williams and Jalani Williams, then age 30 and 18, respectively, were sentenced in 2012 to life in prison without possibility of parole. Co-defendant,
Joh Williams’ conviction was overturned on the grounds that incriminating statements made before the trial were improperly admitted, and that improper action likely influenced the verdict.
"The People presented no other witnesses claiming to have seen this defendant fire shots or to have seen him with a weapon. Therefore, there is a reasonable possibility that the improperly admitted statements contributed to the conviction. Accordingly, this defendant entitled to a new trial on all counts," the court’s summary of its Nov. 5 opinion reads.
Jalani Williams’ life sentence was overturned on the grounds that a subsequent, 2012 U.S. Supreme Court case made it unconstitutional.
"Since the defendant was 16 years of age at the time these crimes occurred, the People concede that this matter should be remanded for re-sentencing in light of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama … holding that a sentence of mandatory life without parole for those under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on ‘cruel and unusual punishments,’" the court wrote in its summary opinion.
Hughes’ manslaughter conviction was overturned because the court found the evidence was insufficient to permit the jury reasonably to find his guilt of the offenses charged beyond a reasonable doubt. "The People failed to introduce any evidence that this defendant fired any shots or even possessed a firearm in this crime," the court wrote. And prosecutors also "failed to prove that he participated in or had the specific intent to facilitate the murder. There was simply no evidence linking him to planning, facilitating, encouraging, or attempting to participate in the murder," the court wrote.
Hughes’ conviction for reckless endangerment was overturned because "there was no evidence indicating that the defendant possessed a firearm or fired any shots."
At trial, prosecutors argued Almonzo Williams was killed by a hail of gunfire and that the defendants each had a role in the conspiracy to murder him. Thirteen bullets hit Williams, and 49 mixed spent shell casings were found at the scene. Some of the casings were tied to a .380-caliber automatic, which was found on Jalani Williams after he fled the scene with Hughes the morning of the murder.
Police have said the Almonzo Williams murder may be linked to several other murders which may be tit-for-tat retaliation killings. (See related links below.) Jalani Williams is brother to Rasenjoni Williams, who was shot subsequent to the Almonzo Williams murder. Rasenjoni was shot while out on bail awaiting trial for the March 2009 shooting death of 33-year-old Steve Williams of Sion Farm, all of which appear to be part of an ongoing feud.