Years after their initial arrest, the five defendants charged with the murder of William Hyde were sentenced within the last two weeks on lesser charges included in plea deals that gave each less than 10 years in prison for the crime.
According to documents from the V.I. Attorney General’s Office, N’Kai Colon was sentenced to nine years in prison, while codefendants Khalif Francis will serve eight years, Jelani Gumbs five years, Jequan Joseph four years and Dionno Brooks two years.
The defendants were all minors at the time of their arrests, but in March 2013, then Family Court Judge Debra Watlington granted a motion to have them tried as adults. Each was charged at the time with two counts of first degree murder and kidnapping for robbery, both of which carry a life sentence.
At sentencing hearings the past two weeks, however, all were sentenced to less than 10 years in prison based on plea deals offered that prosecutors said came as a result of concerns over conflicting testimony and a loophole in the V.I. Code about passing life sentences onto minors.
Documents indicate that Colon, Francis and Gumbs were allowed to plead one count of aiding and abetting first-degree assault, while Brooks and Joseph pleaded to one count of conspiracy.
According to police reports, Hyde was assaulted by five young men aged 16 to 17 on Nov. 23, 2012. The original reports say one of the young men, who knew the victim, called Hyde and asked for a ride. When he showed up, all five suspects allegedly took Hyde in the vehicle to Magens Bay, where they assaulted him, leaving him for dead.
Hyde was found the next morning in the women’s shower at the beach park, police reports said. He had no identification and, after two days, the police issued a call to the community to help identify the "John Doe" lying unconscious in the Schneider Regional Medical Center, at which time Hyde’s coworkers at Boolchands said the description sounded like their friend and they contacted police.
Hyde never regained consciousness, but friends who visited him at the hospital said they saw his eyes moving under closed lids and other signs that at some level he was reacting to their presence.
Due to the severity of his injuries, Hyde was transferred to a hospital in Florida. He was taken off of life support and a week later, on Dec. 17, he died.
Since then, the case has been delayed several times for different reasons, but ended up not going to trial. According to other recent articles from other media sources, Justice Department officials have said that prosecutors could have “run the risk” of seeing the defendants acquitted and used their discretion to come up with the best alternative to trial.
Conflicting testimony from Colon and Brooks – one said that Hyde was chosen as a victim by the group while the other said that Hyde’s beating was retribution for an alleged sexual relationship the two had was one consideration.
Another, according to officials, was a claim made by defense attorneys that sentencing minors to life in prison was unconstitutional. According to court documents, attorneys said that such a sentence could not be passed without looking at the circumstances of the crime when it was committed and, according to Justice officials, those concerns are not within the V.I. Superior Court’s scope.
The trial was expected to start this week.