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Expert Testimony Dominates Day Two of Paris Murder Trial

A medical examiner, a chief of surgery and a ballistics expert all filled in more details of how and where V.I. Police Officer Ariel Frett was killed one February day in 2007, but jurors saw very little that pointed to the man who stands accused for the crime, as the trial of Jermaine Paris slogged through a second day in Superior Court Tuesday.
Frett, who was off duty at the time, was gunned down near Lionel Roberts Stadium in Hospital Ground on Feb. 8, 2007, and died shortly thereafter, according to Dr. Francisco Landron, the V.I. Medical Examiner on St. Thomas. Landron said at least three of the eight bullets that struck Frett that day could have been the fatal shot, including one into the top of his head shot from above.
While half-brothers Basheem Ford and Jermaine Paris were accused of the killing, Ford was later killed in a separate shooting in the Market Square neighborhood before the case could go to trial. That left Paris to face a first-degree murder charge solo.
Legal wrangling waylaid the trial until Monday. Testimony continued for nearly 10 hours again Tuesday in the court of Judge James Carroll III.
The case centers around an afternoon fight that crashed and rolled its way through alleyways and car ports in the area of Goat Street, Bjerge Gade and the area known as Glass Bottle Alley, near the basketball court in Hospital Ground.
By the end of the furious few minutes, Frett lay dying with eight bullet wounds, and Ford, who was only 16 years old at the time, lay seriously wounded after being shot 10 times by VIPD Officer Lorne Clarke.
Prosecutor Jesse Bethel said in his opening statement that Paris aided and abetted his little brother during the first shooting—and then finished Frett off while he lay bleeding on the ground and while his brother ran for his life, pursued by Clarke.
Clarke, who testified Monday, set the scene for the prosecution.
Clarke said he was on his way to work on Feb. 8, turning southbound onto Bjerge Gade just past the stadium when he heard a single gunshot. When he passed Goat Street he heard more shots, so he parked his car, got out and ran to the scene with his .40 caliber Glock service pistol drawn.
He said he saw Frett and Ford locked in a physical struggle, watched Frett fall to the ground, then said he saw Ford stand over him and fire several shots at Frett.
When he confronted Ford, the 16-year-old pointed the silver .357 revolver at Clarke. Clarke said he shot the teenager, gave chase, and shot him again and again until Ford fell wounded on Goat Street, bleeding from 10 bullet wounds that broke an arm, perforated his liver and a kidney and damaged his groin – according to medical details that came out in court Tuesday.
After searching Ford and hearing several more shots, Clarke said he ran back to where Frett lay just in time to see Paris, whom he recognized from high school, walking or standing near Frett’s body holding a pistol in his hand.
When Paris raised the weapon at Clarke, the officer said he ducked behind a VITRAN bus.
Paris got away and resurfaced four days later and turned himself in to police, asking for medical care to treat his shoulder, back and neck, which he said were hurt by Frett ,who had beat his brother and him with an axe handle.
Samuel Joseph, Paris’ defense attorney, has neither denied that Paris and Frett were in a fight nor tried to disprove that Ford shot Frett. He maintains, however, that nothing links Paris to the murder.
Cecil DeWitt, the driver of VITRAN bus that Clarke said he ducked behind to avoid being shot by Paris, testified Tuesday that he saw the events from a different angle while stopped in traffic caused by the fight in the southbound lane on Bjerge Gade across from Lima Market on Goat Street.
“A guy came out with the officer, Frett, and the guy had a gun in his hand, and he [Frett] was trying to get the gun from him,” DeWitt said Tuesday.
He said as the two black men struggled for the gun, another black man walked over and smashed Frett’s head with a brick, causing Frett to fall down into a walkway in front of a car port. A third man walked up from near Goat Street carrying a silver pistol and fired several shots downward in the area where Frett fell, DeWitt said.
Just then he said he saw Officer Clarke rush upon the scene and watched as Clarke and the other man exchanged fire across the street, leaving a bullet in his bus’s radiator.
Asked if he recognized Paris as one of the men he saw that day, DeWitt said, “I can’t say I saw him because I didn’t know who he was. I can’t recognize him.”
While VIPD Major Crimes Detective Mario Stout acknowledged Tuesday that the police had more suspects, which might have explained the mysterious third man mentioned by DeWitt, Judge Carroll cut the testimony off, saying those individuals are not on trial and can neither be described nor named in court.
Frett was pronounced dead at Schneider Regional Medical Center within 30 minutes of the shooting, according to Frank Odlum, chief of surgery, who was on call in the emergency room that day and testified to Frett’s and Ford’s wounds in court Tuesday.
Carlo Rosati, a firearms and tool marks examiner for the FBI, testified Tuesday that a bullet found lodged in Frett’s hip matched perfectly the .357 Smith & Wesson revolver that Ford allegedly ditched and that police recovered nearby in a gut at the scene.
Rosati also said Ford’s revolver only held six rounds. Frett was shot at least eight times, leaving the possibility that there was another shooter or that Ford had employed the speed loader that police found in his pants pockets after he was gunned down.
Those pants were found to be covered in firearms residue, according to A.J. Schwobele, a forensics expert called by the prosecution.
Throughout the testimony, Joseph questioned how evidence was marked, collected, handled and shipped to the various experts, including those who testified Tuesday and the DNA expert who testified Monday.
When Stout testified on the discovery of a cell phone with a photo of Paris on the opening screen, Joseph challenged its validity because of inconsistencies as to exactly where it was found at the scene. A similar argument was made for the axe handle Frett allegedly used to attack Ford and Paris, which appears in some of the police photos but not in others.
If anything, the holes Joseph punched in the prosecution’s case Tuesday highlighted the need for solid police work at crime scenes.
“What happened on Feb. 8, 2007, was tragic,” Joseph said when the trial began. “But my client should not be held responsible for it.”
Paris remains out on a $75,000 bond, assigned to the third-party custody of his mother and subject to a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.
Testimony is expected to wrap up Wednesday, leaving the jury to decide.

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