King-murders / Prosecution sticks to life imprisonment for Johnson

POSTED: 12/13/13 5:18 PM

Defense calls on Vinter-arrest for lower sentence

St. Maarten – Meyshane Kemar Johnson must be sentenced to life imprisonment for the gruesome murder of Michael and Thelma King. That is the demand Solicitor-General Taco Stein presented to the Common Court of Justice yesterday during an exhausting trial-day that started at shortly after 9 a.m. and lasted until the early evening hours. The demand did not come as a surprise, because Stein earlier demanded in the Vesuvius –trial that the court confirms the life sentences of Omar Jones and Carlos Richardson.

The prosecution furthermore demands that two other suspects, Jeremiah Chevon Mills and Jamal Jefferson Woolford be locked up for 28 and 22 years respectively, conform the punishment the Court in First Instance handed down in May of this year.

The three suspects robbed the Happy Star Chinese restaurant on Cannegieter street on September 19 of last year of a measly $215 and got away by the skin of their teeth when a police patrol turned up. Officers fired shots at their car, but the robbers somehow escaped – and that had dire consequences for two unsuspecting Americans at the Ocean Club in Cupecoy. The robbers entered the villa of Michael and Thelma King, initially with the idea to rob the residents of money and valuables. Woolford and the just 17-year-old Mills forced Thelma King to open a safe in their upstairs bedroom where they found cash and jewelry. Downstairs, Johnson held a knife to the throat of Michael King. Eventually, Johnson would stab both Michael and Thelma King to death.

When the Common Court went through the case file with the defendants, a familiar pattern emerged: Johnson claimed that he does not remember a thing from what happened at the King-villa, while Woolford and Johnson denied about everything they had ever told investigators after their arrest. The courtroom was filled to capacity with family members of the murder victims.

Jeremiah Mills insisted that he had found cocaine in the safe of the American couple, but Solicitor-General Stein set him straight later by pointing out that an ion-scan of the safe had found no traces of drugs. The King-family has told this newspaper that Mills stole $70,000 worth of jewelry from the safe and that he probably does not want the others to know this.

The judges went in detail through the fateful events of September 19, with an emphasis on the murders because the defendants had all more or less confessed to their role in the far more innocent robbery at Happy Star.

Mills and Woolford went out of their way to claim that they had left the villa before Johnson did any harm to his victims. The forensic evidence, and also statements made by Johnson, contradict that. The two defendants also consistently claimed – as their attorneys would repeat later – that they found what they came for (money and valuables) and that they just wanted to leave. But the attempt to put a distance between themselves and the actual killer found no sympathy with Solicitor-General Stein, who pointed to statements the defendants made after their arrest to investigators and that fit seamlessly with the forensic evidence and with statements made by Johnson.

The key to Solicitor-General Stein’s demand were the arguments in favor of life imprisonment. The Common Court of Justice overturned the life sentences for Sherwan Robert and Curtley Allison Richards – aka the Regatta-killers – in September of last year. In July, the European Human rights court ruled in the Vinter-arrest that it is axiomatic that a prisoner cannot be detained unless there are legitimate penological grounds for that detention – thereby ruling life imprisonment without the prospect of release inhumane and in November, the Constitutional Court ruled that all references to life imprisonment must be erased from St. Maarten’s new criminal code.

“The prosecutor’s office disagrees with these rulings and is of the opinion that they are not well-motivated and that they do not find support in jurisprudence from the European Human rights Court and the Supreme Court,” Stein said with a reference to the Regatta-ruling and the decision by the Constitutional Court. The plans to take the regatta-rulings to the Supreme Court have stranded because the prosecutor’s office did not manage to present its arguments to the court within the term. Therefore, the Regatta-killers are now certain that their 30-year sentence will not be overturned again.

Stein spent 10 pages from his 45-page demand on arguments that support life imprisonment. In St. Maarten convicts have the option of a pardon and the option of criminal summary proceedings to find their way out of a life sentence. That the Common Court ruled in the Regatta-case that the option of a pardon is insufficient is according to Stein “premature, not well-motivated and at odds with higher rulings.”

Stein said that the decision by the Constitutional Court of St. Maarten to erase life imprisonment as a punishment-modality from the draft penal code “incorrect and incomprehensible.”

Stein finds Woolford guilty as an accessory to the King-murders and Mills as an accomplice. He considers Johnson the initiator of the deadly and unnecessary violence. “The rash way this defendant committed these crimes testifies of a shocking lack of respect for human life. Apparently driven by greed the defendant acted without conscience resulting in the death of two innocent people.”

Stein concluded that the three defendants have caused the victims’ family irreparable sorrow. “Apparently untouched by what they had done, the defendants concluded their evening in a brothel (Casa Blanca in Oyster Pond – ed.) where they spent the money they stole.”

Attorney Brenda Brooks did not waste any time on the charges against her client Meyshane Johnson. She revisited the problems surrounding the summonses that were issued to Johnson in January; at the time Brooks fought the summonses because they had been served too late and asked the court to declare them null and void. In earlier court proceedings, the attorney found no support for the point of view. She asked the court to declare the prosecution inadmissible, and to take into consideration that police officers had used excessive violence during her client’s arrest. Brooks referred to the Vinter-arrest of the European Human Rights Court to support her argument that the life sentence cannot hold up. “St. Maarten does not meet the requirements of Vinter,” she concluded.

Shaira Bommel, attorney for Jeremiah Mills, said that only statements made by Johnson put her client inside the villa at the time of the murders, while both Mills and Woolford have declared that they had already left. Johnson spent seven minutes alone in the villa after the others had left. “My client also promised Thelma King that nothing would happen to her,” Bommel said. “The Supreme Court has rules that conditional intent should not be made dependent on the nature of the consequences.” The attorney asked the court to acquit Mills of complicity to murder.

Safira Ibrahim told the court that her client Jamal Woolford is prepared to take responsibility for his actions. “He does not deny his presence in the villa and he does not deny the robbery, but he denies any involvement in the killings. They went to Cupecoy without a plan, and they did not discuss anything. They were just drawn to the villa because the lights were on. My client was looking for money, nothing else.”

The Common court of Justice will pronounce its rulings in these cases on Thursday, January 2.

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