High Court Strikes Criminal Counts in 2012 St. John Murder Case

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The Virgin Islands Supreme Court, from left, Chief Justice Rhys S. Hodge, Associate Justice Ive Arrington Swan and Associate Justice Maria M. Cabret. (Government House photo)
The Virgin Islands Supreme Court, from left, Chief Justice Rhys S. Hodge, Associate Justice Ive Arrington Swan and Associate Justice Maria M. Cabret. (Government House photo)

A three-judge panel sitting on the the Virgin Islands Supreme Court ordered a lower court to change the verdict in a 2012 murder case to remove provisions they said ran afoul of the U.S. Constitution.

Chief Justice Rhys Hodge wrote the opinion after considering an appeal in the case of Ralph Titre Jr.

Titre was found guilty of second degree murder, assault, reckless endangerment and destruction of evidence by a jury in Superior Court on Dec. 1, 2016, in connection with the death of “Tiny Jah” Jarvis. Jarvis was shot and killed outside of Bellevue Village on St. John at the end of a continuing dispute between the two men.

The defendant’s lawyer filed an appeal in April 2017, saying the court violated Titre’s Fifth Amendment rights by charging him twice for the same crimes. In the opinion published Jan. 24, Hodge agreed, in part. But the chief justice also disagreed with some of the arguments included in the appeal.

The result was a split decision and ruling. Hodge, along with Associate Justices Maria Cabret and Ive Swan heard arguments on the case on Oct. 9, 2018.

In his ruling, Hodge said there were five instances where the jury that convicted Titre violated the Fifth Amendment because the actions constituting the crimes were also actions making up the more serious crimes of second degree murder, possession of a weapon during the commission of murder and destruction of evidence.

The Fifth Amendment is best known to the public as the provision defendants uphold when refusing to make self-incriminating statements. But the Fifth Amendment also speaks to cases of double jeopardy. Criminal charges pointing to a defendant’s actions more than once are commonly set aside or consolidated at the time of sentencing.

At the end of Titre’s trial, from Nov. 28-30, 2016, his attorney asked for a hearing to decide if the government’s witnesses and evidence were strong enough to uphold the charges. The court found five of the charges did not meet the test, and were dropped from the case being handed over for deliberations.

But on appeal, the high court agreed that five more charges — third degree assault, reckless endangerment and three related weapons charges — were lesser included charges.

“ … because Titre’s convictions for Counts 5 through 9 violate either double jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment of (14 V.I.C. Section 104), we remand with instruction to the Superior Court to vacate those convictions,” Hodge said.

However, the panel allowed the three convictions to stand, along with the sentence of 25 years in prison. They also declared the court’s instructions to the jury regarding the factors to consider in the murder count to stand.

Original Source: https://stjohnsource.com/2019/02/14/high-court-strikes-criminal-counts-in-2012-st-john-murder-case/