A federal trial began Monday for a former investigator for the V.I. Justice Department accused in connection with the March 25 fatal armed robbery at McDonald’s restaurant.
A string of witnesses with firsthand knowledge of the incident testified on the first day of the trial of Troy Titley, a 36-year old former special investigator. He is accused of furnishing a vehicle used in the incident that resulted in the death of 17-year-old Juan de Dios, described in testimony as the ringleader at the scene of the crime.
De Dios died at the scene in a confrontation with police. Authorities said death came as a result of a self inflicted gunshot wound.
The defendant is facing eight felony counts: Hobbs act robbery, conspiracy to commit Hobbs act robbery, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, conspiracy to possess a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, robbery in the first degree, using an unlicensed firearm during the commission of a robbery, possession of an unlicensed firearm in a public housing zone and conspiracy.
Similar charges were also facing five others: Betel Paulino, 18; Junior Feliz, 22; Hanselo Recio, 18; and Helwood Paris, 20. The fifth co-conspirator, Angel Guerrero Belen, 16, testified Monday that he also entered a plea agreement with prosecutors and admitted his role in the robbery.
According to court records, Paris was supposed to stand trial along with Titley but reached a plea agreement on Sunday, one day before the trial began.
Belen was one of two co-conspirators to testify against Titley. He is currently an inmate at the Youth Rehabilitation Center, awaiting sentencing in the family division of Superior Court.
He and Paulino described their roles on the robbery team that entered the eatery around closing time on a Saturday night.
Belen testified he was the masked assailant who pointed a .22 caliber handgun at the head of McDonald’s manager Marcina Graham and ordered her to hand over money held in the restaurant’s safe.
Paulino said he was reluctant to accept one of the weapons given out by de Dios prior to entering. Instead he was told to take a backpack into McDonalds and pose as a customer, to lie on the floor along with the robbery victims and surrender the bag to be used in collecting the money.
Graham told the court $3,100 was taken that night. Under questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Tigrid Tejo-Sprotte, the manager described how three masked individuals entered the store, brandishing weapons.
One walked up to her, pointed a gun at her head and asked for the location of the safe.
“It was one of the worst, traumatic days for me. I no longer have a normal life,” Graham said.
Belen told the court how he walked the manager into the office at gunpoint and, after the safe was opened, helped load cash into a bag.
The witness said he then marched the manager out onto the floor and toward the store’s side door, where he saw police were waiting.
“We took the money and put it inside of a bag. We got out to leave but when we got out the police were already there,” he said.
Spotte asked Belen if he was making these statements as part of a plea agreement. The witness said “Yes.”
Belen told the court he managed to flee the store along with Paris but was arrested by detectives a few days later while attending the Charlotte Amalie High School.
The link to Titley came during testimony about the staging of the robbery. Both Belen and Paulino said they met with deDios and Feliz in a church parking lot in Contant.
The original plan was to rob the Pueblo Supermarket in Sub Base, they said, but when the robbery team traveled there they found the store had already closed. At the time they were traveling in Feliz’s red car.
Paulino testified Feliz said the car had problems and he wanted to switch to one with darkened windows. He left and returned with a Jeep.
Feliz told Paulino he got the vehicle from a federal police officer and nothing was going to happen to them because they were riding in the car.
Belen said he knew Feliz’s car by it’s distinctive rims. Under questioning by defense attorney Carl Williams, the witness said there was also something distinctive about the second vehicle.
“He told us not to worry because the car he was driving belonged to a detective,” Belen said.