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Jury Finds Paris Not Guilty in Shooting Death of VIPD Officer

After four long days of testimony and five hours of deliberation Thursday, a jury found 27-year-old Jermaine Paris not guilty of first-degree murder and four other assault and weapons charges, deciding that he did not aid and abet his little brother to kill off-duty V.I. Police Officer Ariel Fret during a street fight in Hospital Ground on Feb. 8, 2007.
Just after the verdict was read at about 10 p.m. Thursday, Paris was seen walking through his neighborhood of Hospital Ground arm in arm with his mother and other family members who shouted, “He’s free! He’s free!”
The verdict came as a blow to prosecutors who had been involved in the case for nearly three years, ever since Frett was shot eight times during a fight near Lionel Roberts Stadium in Hospital Ground and died within the hour at Schneider Regional Medical Center.
Paris and his half-brother, Basheem Ford, were originally arrested for the crime.
Ford had been gunned down at the scene by VIPD Officer Lorne Clarke, who said he saw Ford shoot Frett after a struggle and after Frett had fallen to the ground. Paris was arrested four days later, turning himself in to police after seeing his picture broadcast on the news as a wanted man.
Ford was later killed in a separate shooting in the Market Square neighborhood before the case could go to trial, leaving Paris to face trial alone.
Conflicting versions of what happened confused the week of testimony, which often carried into the night.
In the end, the trial boiled down to Clarke, who said he witnessed Ford shooting Frett, and was the only witness to say he then saw Paris walking near Frett’s body with a gun.
Before resting the case Thursday, defense attorney Samuel Joseph recalled Clarke to the stand to pry open the holes in Clarke’s story.
“We cannot just give the benefit of the doubt to a person because they are an officer,” Joseph said.
Clarke had testified, and restated again Thursday under recall, that he had identified Paris at the scene that day because he knew Paris from school – Addelita Cancryn and Charlotte Amalie High School – and also because he said he had stopped Paris for not wearing a seatbelt several weeks before the shooting.
Defense attorney Samuel Joseph had Clarke restate to the jury how he remembered stopping Paris, taking his driver’s license, vehicle registration and then letting him go with a warning.
When Paris took the stand, however, he said he did not and still does not drive, has never held a driver’s license and therefore could not have been the one to turn over his license or registration to Clarke.
If Clarke could mistake Paris’ identity then, he could easily have been mistaken again, Joseph said.
“What it really comes down to is Clarke’s identification,” Joseph said in his closing comments Thursday.
“There was no one who says they saw Jermaine Paris shoot Ariel Frett. Nobody!” he said. “It’s because he simply was not there.”
Up until the very end, witnesses provided numerous complementary, and often contradictory, versions of the fight on Feb. 8, but none other than Clarke pointed to Paris as being a party to a shooting.
Paris finally got a chance to give his account of events Thursday. “Not a version, but what really happened,” Paris said as the questions began.
He said he was leaving his house through an alley that feeds onto Goat Street that afternoon when he ran into a standoff between Frett and his brother, Ford, who he said was panting and sweating and pointing at Frett, who he said was wielding an axe handle.
“He looked like something was wrong,” Paris said Thursday.
When he told his brother to go home, Paris said Frett chased him with the stick, finally pinning him behind a car and striking him on the shoulder before Paris could get away.
Running right out of his slippers and falling once when he couldn’t hold up his pants, he ran east down Goat Street, turned south on Bjerge Gade, and then west down the street known as Seventh Day street on his way back home.
“I wasn’t helping nobody shoot nobody,” Paris said Thursday. “I was running for my life.”
At home minutes later to examine his injuries, Paris said he heard some shots, then another burst that “sound like rocket fire,” he said. Someone came by yelling that his brother had been shot.
Running to the scene, Paris said he saw his bloodied brother on the ground and Clarke trying to control a crowd that had gathered around. Paris said Clarke refused to let him see his brother. He had lost his cell phone somewhere in the earlier tussle and had to run home to call his mother, he said.
That was the last Paris said he had to do with the crime scene until he went searching for his phone later that night.
He denied shooting Frett or helping his brother shoot Frett, and denied that he knew Clarke from school, saying that Feb. 8 was the first time he had ever seen Clarke, as he kept him away from his brother in the street.
Bethel and his legal team turned down an opportunity to comment on the case after the verdict was read at about 10 p.m. Thursday.
“Oh what a tangled web we weave when the truth we try to deceive,” Joseph said, as be gave his final comments Thursday, quoting poet Sir Walter Scott.
“Just because they are brothers…?” Joseph later asked, piling on the dispirited-looking prosecutor, Bethel.
“Show me how Jermaine Paris shall be responsible for the actions of anybody else,” he said.
Paris left the courtroom a free man, locked arm in arm with his mother, who attended every minute of the trial.

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