Attorneys downplay clients’ roles in King-murders – Court ruling announced for May 8

POSTED: 04/11/13 3:09 PM
Meyshane Johnson leaves court
Meyshane J., who faces a life sentence for killing Thelma and Michael King, leaves the courthouse with bent head. Photo Today / Milton Pieters

St. Maarten – Defense attorneys went out of their way yesterday morning in the Court in First Instance to downplay the role of their respective clients in the September 19, 2012 killing of Thelma and Michael King in their villa at the Ocean Club in Cupecoy. Judge Tamara Tijhuis will pronounce her verdict against all three defendants on May 8.

Attorney Brenda Brooks revisited the troubles surrounding the summonses that were issued to her client Meyshane Kemar J. on January. The first one was issued too late, and J. did not appear in court in January 10; that day, the prosecutor’s office issued a summons for January 17 and again the defendant did not appear. On that second summons however, J. had waived the legal 7-day term and Judge Tijhuis dismissed the defense argument that he had been misled into signing the document. “He knew what this was all about,” the Judge ruled in January. J. was finally in court for a pro forma hearing on January 22; later he lost the appeal against the decision by Judge Tijhuis.

However, yesterday attorney Brooks brought up the matter one more time – for the sole purpose of having the argument at hand during an inevitable appeal hearing – and asked the court to declare the prosecution inadmissible. She also asked the court to consider the excessive force the arrest team used during her client’s arrest on September 23.

That day, J. was found under a bed in his girlfriend’s house. He resisted arrest and sustained injuries during the struggle with police officers. Brooks downplayed J.’s involvement in the armed robbery at the Happy Star restaurant on September 19 of last year, when he was the driver of the getaway car.”There was no plan,” she said, “and my client would not rob a place where he is well-known. This robbery was sloppy as sloppy can be. I ask the court to acquit my client as an accomplice. He was an accessory.”

The main focus was obviously on J.’s role in the killing of Thelma and Michael King, a couple of hours after the Happy Star restaurant robbery. “The prosecution has concluded to premeditated murder, but I do not see that in the file. To convict for murder the prosecution must at least show that this was planned. It is not possible to convict when it happens in a split second. We do not call that murder. There was no careful consideration. This was not murder, it was manslaughter.”

Attorney Brooks presented an explanation for the fact that her client said on the first day of the trial that he could not remember “the event” as he called the killings. “I can imagine that he does not want to remember, that he wishes that it was all a bad dream.”

The attorney said that the King-killings do not compare to the Vesuvius-case wherein two men were sentenced to life imprisonment for a string of gang-related execution-style killings. She objected to the demand for a life sentence against her client. “Life is life here in St. Maarten,” she said. “At some point you should give someone the opportunity to return to the society. I expect that an eventual life sentence will be overturned on appeal and mitigated to 30 years.”

Attorney Shaira Bommel, acting for 18-year-old Jeremiah Chevon M., contested that her client had been either an accomplice or an accessory to the killings. “Meyshane J. has murdered both victims without any reason,” she said.”My client has never wanted this to happen. It does not appear that he was present when J. slit the throat of Michael King. It was impossible to foresee that the theft would result in the death of the Kings.”

The attorney said that her client had not seen that J. was holding a weapon when he restrained Michael King. “My client left the house shortly after he had taken the money from the safe. He was shocked to learn about the deaths a couple of days later via the newspapers.”

Attorney Bommel said that the statements made by Meyshane J. are unreliable and that he “suddenly is unable to remember anything.”

That M. provided a second knife to J. is “a guess by the prosecution,” the attorney said. “It cannot be established that a second knife was used.”

Most of all, Bommel pointed out, the violence took place after her client had already left the house. “Meyshane J. was alone in the house for seven minutes. A lot of things can happen in that time.”

Attorney Bommel also pleaded for an acquittal for the secondary charge of being an accomplice or an accessory to the lesser charge of manslaughter. She conceded that her client had been involved in the Happy Star robbery, in robbing Thelma King of her freedom by tying her to a chair and to laundering the proceeds of the crimes.

Safira Ibrahim, the attorney for 21-year-old Jamal W. did not deny her client’s involvement in the Happy Star robbery either. She also conceded that W. was present in the villa at the Ocean Club. “He has cooperated with the investigation and wants to take responsibility for his role in the events.”

The attorney said that the gun her client had pulled during the Happy Star robbery was an unloaded pellet gun and that the three defendants had not made a plan for the robbery in Cupecoy. “They went to the villa via the beach without speaking a word. Their focus was on money, not on using violence against the Kings.”

W. did see that Meyshane J. held “a shiny object” against Michael King’s throat. “After he came down from the upstairs bedroom with Thelma King he was ready to leave because he had what he came for,” attorney Ibrahim said. “As he was leaving he saw J. make a movement with the knife and he said: don’t do it. Later he said: I could not stand the sight so I went outside. This is not the behavior of a cold-blooded murderer.”

The attorney agreed with the prosecution’s position that W. is not an accomplice to the murders, but she also contested his role as an accessory. “My client is not responsible for the death of Thelma and Michael King. His objective was to get money and he is not responsible for the further-reaching actions of others.”

While attorney Ibrahim conceded that her client had played a part in tying Thelma King to a chair, she noted that he had not threatened the woman. She added that the prosecution is using the construction of “conditional intent” to tie her client as an accessory to the killings. W. had no reason to believe that Meyshane J. would cause any harm to the Kings, the attorney said.”When he went upstairs to get the money from the safe, J. had the opportunity to kill Michael King and he did not do it.” She asked the court to acquit her client of complicity and of being an accessory to the murders.

Prosecutor Dounia Benammar dismissed attorney Brooks’ arguments about the summonses against Meyshane J. as “a repetition of what was brought up on January 17. “The time for preliminary defense arguments has passed. There was nothing wrong with the summons we issued on January 10.” The prosecutor noted that the injuries J. sustained during his arrest are the results of his resistance. As for the perspective a convict with a life sentence has, she added: “In the Regatta-ruling the Appeals Court came to the wrong conclusion. It is possible to pardon someone with a life sentence.”

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