Aug. 11, 2006 – Rennell Lettsome was convicted of second-degree murder and second-degree attempted murder Friday in the death of David Geiger and the near fatal beating of Geiger's son, Nathan.
The jury entered its verdicts shortly before 3 p.m. Friday after deliberating all day Thursday and more than half a day Friday.
Though Lettsome will not receive a life sentence for the crimes, prosecutor Ernest Bason said Lettsome is looking at a lot of years.
Dressed in a beige plaid long-sleeved shirt and neatly pressed khakis, Lettsome stood solemnly with his hands at his side as the charges were read, showing little emotion. About 15 people were in the normally crowded courtroom for the reading of the verdict. All jurors, except one, answered "yes" immediately after Judge Brenda Hollar asked them if they had reached the verdict independently. As the hushed courtroom waited, one woman paused for several seconds before finally uttering "yes."
Presiding Judge Brenda Hollar took several minutes pouring over the 12-page verdict, before handing it to a clerk to read aloud. The only sound that could be heard in courtroom was Hollar turning the pages.
Bason, chief of the V.I. Justice Department's Criminal Division, and William Kelly Evans, assistant attorney general, said they were satisfied with the trial's outcome. After the verdicts were read, Bason said, "I'm happy with the result. There were lots of things to consider and they did their best on a hard job. There were 73 exhibits [to consider]. It was very, very difficult."
Evans agreed with Bason. "I am satisfied with the verdict," he said. Evans had the last word in the trial in a rebuttal Wednesday to defense attorney Pedro Williams' charges that the evidence was contradictory and insufficient to merit the criminal charges against his client.
Evans had made an eloquent plea to the jury to convict Lettsome. In concluding his remarks, he told the jury, "You are the only voice David Geiger has … it is a decision that will follow you the rest of your life."
Along with the first two charges, Lettsome was also found guilty of using a deadly weapon during the commission of second-degree murder; third-degree assault; using a deadly weapon during the commission of third-degree assault; first-degree arson; and using a deadly weapon during the commission of first-degree arson.
He was found not guilty of first-degree murder and first-degree attempted murder, or of using a deadly weapon in either of those crimes.
Bason said, "Lettsome is going to get some years, definitely some years. The two arson charges alone are 20 years each." He said he couldn't give exact sentences for the various charges, because he didn't have the sentencing documents before him, but he did say the minimum for second-degree murder is five years.
"The maximum for that charge is not life," Bason said, "but the judge can determine the years beyond that." He said the maximum for third-degree assault is five years.
The attorneys said they would probably merge some of the charges when they meet with Hollar on Aug. 21.
Bason said, "I would have been happy if Nathan had snapped and remembered everything that happened. That, and the DNA, the jury would have been back in hours."
The trial, which started Monday and went to the jury late Wednesday, was short but intense, with a steady stream of witnesses including Geiger's neighbors, British Virgin Island and V.I. Police officers, Lettsome's mother, FBI blood and DNA experts, and 14-year-old Nathan Geiger.
Lettsome was charged with the Oct. 29, 2005, murder of St. John contractor David Geiger and the brutal beating of Nathan Geiger, whom Lettsome had left for dead before setting their home on fire.
Hollar announced to the jury early in the week that she expected the trial would wrap up by the end of the week. Testimony finished late Wednesday after a day and a half of testimony from witnesses for the prosecution, and about a day of witnesses for the defense.
The prosecution based its case on two signed confessions by Lettsome, DNA evidence, and on information from Amber Taylor, Lettsome's ex-girlfriend and the mother of his son, who claimed in an affidavit that Lettsome admitted to the murder. (See "Jury Deliberations Begin Thursday in Geiger Murder Case").
Hollar said Lettsome would be sentenced in her courtroom at 3 p.m. Sept. 18.
In a related matter, Bason said he had filed motions Friday morning to dismiss charges against Robert Ferguson and Nestor Colaire, who were arrested and charged with attempted murder, accessory after the fact and arson for their alleged roles in the incidents which took place at the Geiger residence in October.
They were suspected of going to Geiger's house with Lettsome after the murder, to set fire to the house to cover up the crime. The evidence against the two is based on information supplied by Amber Taylor, Lettsome's ex-girlfriend
Ferguson is free, released on his own recognizance after he turned himself in last year. Colaire was also released on an unsecured bond, but in June he was remanded to jail by Judge Rhys Hodge for violating his court-imposed curfew.
Bason said he took the action because "the case against them is too weak."
"We don't have enough evidence," which is why he said he made the motion to dismiss without prejudice.
"This means that if Nathan remembers what happened that night, we can bring them back to stand trial."
However, charges against Tullius Stewart, the third man allegedly involved in the case, will not be dismissed, Bason said. Stewart has pleaded not guilty to charges of grand larceny and possession of stolen property. He has not been charged in the murder
Taylor told investigators that Stewart had come to Gieger's house when she was house sitting, and had stolen $50,000 in cash that Geiger kept in the house.
The alleged theft set the stage for the tragic events that followed. Taylor is now in Florida, too far away to be subpoenaed for the Lettsome trial. (See "Prosecution Presents Details of Murder on First Day of Geiger Trial").
Stewart turned himself in to police last November, after returning from California. He was subsequently released on his own recognizance by Superior Court Judge Leon Kendall.
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