Jury selection continued into a second full day Wednesday in St. Croix’s Superior Court as the trial of the five individuals charged in the June 2001 disappearance of V.I. Police Cpl. Wendell Williams gets under way.
The jury selection process will continue Thursday.
An odd thing transpired following the lunch recess when prosecutor Kippy Roberson told Judge Darryl Donohue and the defense that it was the people’s intent to charge its own witness – Jimmy Davis – with a felony count of attempting to influence a potential juror.
According to Roberson, Davis used his “own brand of mental ill” in making a threat against a woman who removed herself from the jury pool and who was identified only as Juror 15.
The five individuals on trial – Sherima Clercent, Jose G. Ventura, Maximiliano and Juan Velasquez, and Jose M. Rivera Jr. – sat in court behind their five individual attorneys, who all sat together at a conference table. The four men and one woman were all arrested and charged with crimes relating to Williams’ disappearance on Feb. 9, 2012, more than a decade after William’s went missing.
Rivera, who had been identified in previous court proceedings as the alleged shooter, was the only defendant not picked up on St. Croix. He was arrested and then extradited from just outside Atlanta.
All the defendants face up to life in prison without parole if convicted.
When V.I. police cracked the case and made arrests in February of 2012, then Chief of Police Christopher Howell said, “This arrest should stand as a reminder to the criminal element that there is no place on this planet you can hide, nor any limitation on the amount of time that passes, that will deter police from continuing any ongoing murder investigation and fulfilling their pledge to bring all perpetrators to face justice."
Williams was 49 years old and an 18-year veteran of the police force when he went missing on June 13, 2001. He was last seen by his sister when they drove a relative to the airport. In the weeks following his disappearance, police searched all over the island for Williams, but the only thing ever found was his car, which police discovered burned out in the bush near Castle Burke. Shell casings from a high-powered weapon were found nearby, causing police to upgrade the case from missing persons to homicide.
At a detention hearing a few weeks following the suspects’ arrests, Detective Frank Ortiz, a criminal investigator in the St. Croix Cold Case Squad, recounted gruesome details of the alleged crime as told to him and other officers by an unidentified witness who’d identified the suspects and told police what their alleged roles had been.
Ortiz said that the witness told police that Williams spent the last few hours of his life on his knees with his hands tied to a pole behind him in an abandoned building on the property of the old Grape Tree Bay Hotel. The same witness told police he saw Williams being beaten and tortured by means of electricity using an extension cord plugged into a portable generator, and the witness said people around him, maybe 10 or 11 with some being from St. Maarten, cooked up crack cocaine in a homemade lab while everything took place.
The witness allegedly told police that after the electrical shock torture, Rivera shot Williams in his hand and, while Williams was pleading for his life, Rivera shot him in the head. Then Rivera allegedly picked up an electric reciprocating saw and dismembered him, with several defendants helping to put the parts into bags. They dragged Williams’ remains a short distance to the shore, where Maximiliano Velasquez piloted a powerboat with the name "Ashes" and they dumped Williams’ body into the Caribbean Sea about two miles northeast of Buck Island, according to Ortiz’ testimony as told to him by the unidentified witness.
As the only female charged, Clercent’s alleged role was more in concealing the crime. Ortiz testified she cleaned up and took buckets of water and scrubbed the area where Williams was dismembered.
As for motive, Ortiz said there were two tentative and vague motives cited by the witness: that Williams had "touched something he wasn’t supposed to," which the witness said would have meant either drugs or guns, and that Williams may have been about to arrest or turn the defendants in.