Superior Court Senior Sitting Judge Darryl Donohue Sr. acquitted Sharima Clercent and Juan Velasquez Rivera, two of five defendants charged in the 2001 torture-murder of V.I. Police Officer Wendell Williams, shortly after the prosecution rested its case Monday morning.
Donohue acquitted the two on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction, ruling in response to what are called "rule 29" motions from Clercent’s defense attorney Jomo Meade and Rivera’s attorney Vincent Colliani III.
Clercent and Velasquez were arrested in 2012, along with Jose G. Ventura, 43, of Estate Whim; Maximiliano Velasquez, 40, of Estate Clifton Hill; and Jose M. Rivera Jr., 39, for the June 2001 murder of Williams. Much of the case is based on an eyewitness account from a woman, Theresa Coogle, who was 17 at the time of the murder. Coogle gave several statements, several years apart, to different law enforcement officers, most of which were not taped or transcribed.
In statements and on the stand, she painted a graphic and horrific account of what she witnessed that night. Some of the specific details of who did what appeared to be inconsistent from one statement to the next, and Coogle herself admitted that time, the trauma and a hard partying life since witnessing the crime have hurt her memory. But her outline of the events remains broadly consistent across a decade of interviews each several years apart.
Significantly Coogle said very little that indicated the guilt of either Clercent or Juan Velasquez, and FBI accounts of jailhouse testimony implicate other defendants, while not mentioning either Clercent or Juan Velasquez at all.
Coogle testified both were present at the scene of the killing but indicated she and Clercent were both ordered to clean up afterwards, suggesting they had no say in the matter. And she did not recount any actions she alleged were taken by Juan Velasquez.
Asked if she would like to comment on Donohue’s ruling, Clercent said, "No, I’m just happy."
The defense continues Tuesday for the remaining three defendants.