St. Maarten – A team of around twenty police officers set up shop at the Belair Community Center around eight o’clock yesterday morning to prepare for the first day of the appeal in the Vesuvius-investigation. The officers set up steel barriers to secure the immediate vicinity of the building, but unlike during the trial in the Court in First Instance there were no sharpshooters clad in balaclavas and bulletproof vests on the roof.
There are seven defendants in this high profile case that are fighting multiple charges of murder, firearm possession and membership of a criminal organization.
Two defendants, gang leader Omar Jones and his hit man Carlos Richardson are appealing life sentences.
Earlier this month the Constitutional Court voided all references to life imprisonment from the draft criminal code.
The decision is based on the Vinter-arrest of the European Human Rights Court. This ruling establishes that a life sentence is inhumane – and therefore unconstitutional – if there is no legislation in place that gives convicts with a life sentence the right to a review of their punishment after 20 years and that offers a real perspective on early release.
Solicitor-General Taco Stein said yesterday that he would address the issue today when he presents his demands against the seven defendants to the court, but he declined to indicate which direction he will go with this issue.
The trial started almost an hour late with the hearing of two witnesses for the defense. Six other witnesses did not show up and an order to bring them to court did not work either because they could not be located. The defense wanted in particular to hear Omax Bye – the man who is accused of killing Amador Jones on April 16, 2011. Bye is currently detained in his native St. Kitts. The local authorities made an interrogation dependent on permission from Bye and his attorney. Solicitor-General Taco Stein told the court that the attorney had not responded to several requests, from which the court concluded that renewed attempts are useless.
There is still a chance that Bye will one day appear in court in St. Maarten because St. Kitts is currently handling a request for his extradition. A hearing about the request is scheduled to take place in January of next year.
Kennedy Fergus, who was with Bye at the former Tan Tan supermarket in Dutch Quarter when Omar Jones reportedly opened fire in retaliation for the killing of his brother Amador four days earlier. The whereabouts of Fergus are unknown. The court decided to toss all six witnesses and to proceed with the appeals of the other defendants.
At the beginning of the afternoon Charles Fleming considered withdrawing his appeal, but after consultation with his attorney Safira Ibrahim he decided not to do this and to stay in court.
Judges Van Kooten, De Haan and Lourens presented details from the different charges in great detail to the defendants who mostly retained their right to remain silent. However, all defendants denied all charges against them.
At stake are charges in four different cases. The first one is the shooting at the former Tan Tan supermarket in Dutch Quarter whereby Jones but also Carlos Richardson fired shots at Bye and Fergus.
The second charge is the killing of Miguel Arrindell, owner of the Cappucino bar in Simpson Bay on May 25, 2011, a day before he was to stand trial in the doomed Snowflake trial. The Court in First Instance sentenced Jones and Richardson for the murder. Ekron Morgan is considered an accessory to the killing.
The third charge is the killing of Arrindell’s brother Rodolfo on July 7, 2011, also by Jones and Richardson.
By the time the judges had presented the facts from these cases it was three o’clock and the court took a short break before it continued with the fourth charge – the Cat’s case; this is a shooting at Cat’s shopping center on Illidge Road whereby Eric Lake and Kevin Gumbs were gunned down, also by Jones and Richardson.
The defendants are also accused of membership of a criminal organization and several defendants have been charged with firearm possession.
The court spent the whole day until the early hours of the evening on confronting the defendants with the facts from the extensive case file.
The prosecution will present its case to the appeal court starting at 11 a.m. Stein said yesterday that his presentation consists of one hundred pages.