After hearing arguments from the prosecution and defense Thursday, Judge Harold W.L. Willocks ruled in favor of a fourth continuance in the double murder trial of former police officer Francis Williams.
“I’m caught between a rock and a hard place,” said Willocks, acknowledging the validity of the prosecutor’s request for a postponement and the defense attorney’s request to move forward with the trial.
Williams is charged with the murder of fellow police officers Lesha Lammy and Kai Javois, who were found shot to death Aug. 9, 2016 at Ham’s Bluff Beach on the northwestern end of St. Croix.
His trial was scheduled to begin in Superior Court Thursday.
That morning in court, prosecuting attorney Timothy Perry requested a continuance due to “unforeseen circumstances,” namely the federal shutdown.
Several prosecution witnesses work as federal agents, either for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) or the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and are unavailable to testify in court due to the shutdown, he said.
“This is similar to what is happening across the country right now,” said Perry. “Witnesses are not available to offer material evidence.”
One such witness with the ATF is also recovering from surgery and can neither walk nor travel, he said.
“We are ready to bring this case to trial but for unforeseen circumstances,” Perry said.
Willocks reminded Perry that it is the obligation of the People to move its case, despite the unforeseeable. He suggested video testimonies as a method of moving forward.
Meanwhile defense attorney Gordon Rhea argued that, after three prior delays at the government’s request, he had already lost several alibi witnesses who have moved off island.
“The alleged offense occurred in August, 2016. If this trial is not done now, we will have to start all over again,” said Rhea, referring to the money and time spent thus far and to the possible loss of even more alibi witnesses.
“We could find ourselves here a year from now and the prosecution witnesses may still not be available,” he said.
Rhea also explained that his client has remained under house arrest, unable to work, for over two years while awaiting trial.
Although Willocks decided in favor of a continuance until May 13, he released Williams from house arrest, allowing him to remove his electronic ankle monitor.
“I cannot subject the defendant to further hardship …but he will surrender his passport and not leave St. Croix without express permission from this court.”
After a brief recess, the judge addressed jurors and requested that, unless they have urgent prior commitments, they make themselves available for the new trial date.
“We are disappointed in the postponement because Mr. Williams was looking forward to his day in court,” said Rhea. “But we will both certainly be ready in May, as the court has instructed.”