84 F
Cruz Bay
Sunday, July 21, 2024
HomeNewsLocal newsAugust Trial Date Set for Man Accused of Killing Aaron Benjamin Jr.,...

August Trial Date Set for Man Accused of Killing Aaron Benjamin Jr., 4

Kyle Christopher, charged with first-degree murder in the 2019 beating death of 4-year-old Aaron Benjamin Jr. of St. Croix, is set to stand trial on Aug. 21.

Kyle Christopher (VIPD photo)
Kyle Christopher (VIPD photo)

The order by Superior Court Judge Harold Willocks, filed Wednesday but dated June 29, appears to put to rest any possibility of a plea deal for Christopher, who as recently as May was in negotiations with the government, according to court documents.

Kyle was set to stand trial on April 11, 2022, but Willocks agreed just days before to continue the case after a series of events led the Public Defender’s Office to ask for more time to prepare.

Most notably, Christopher accepted a plea deal on April 1, 2022, agreeing to plead guilty to aggravated child abuse and neglect. However, the Attorney General’s Office immediately objected, noting the offer was from 2020 and had been withdrawn.

The snafu occurred when a new public defender took over the case and while going through the files to familiarize themselves with the issues located the November 2020 plea offer, which they thought was still valid.

Christopher faces charges of first-degree murder, child abuse, third-degree assault, and aggravated child abuse and neglect in Aaron’s death. He has pleaded not guilty.

First responders found the child unresponsive on the bathroom floor of an apartment at the Lorraine Village housing community on St. Croix on Oct. 11, 2019, after receiving a 911 call. They tried to administer CPR but were unsuccessful, according to reports at the time. They said Aaron had been badly abused, was malnourished, and had different stages of lacerations about his body, the police reported.

The child was found to have died of blunt force trauma, and according to police and court reports, had bruises on his nose, a lump on his right cheek, bruises on his back and his butt cheeks, and scars on his butt cheeks, some black and some lighter.

Delecia Daniel and her boyfriend, Kyle Christopher, were arrested and charged with the death of Daniel's 4-year-old son, Aaron Benjamin Jr. (VIPD photos)
Delicia Daniel (VIPD photos)

Aaron’s mother, Delicia Daniel, Christopher’s former girlfriend, also was charged with first-degree murder but in October 2021 accepted a deal that saw her plead guilty to a single charge of child abuse. She was sentenced in February 2022 to 20 years in prison with credit for 2 years served.

Christopher sought a change of venue last September, citing the intense publicity around Daniel’s sentencing, with his public defender arguing that allowing the case to proceed on St. Croix would violate his right to a fair trial by an impartial jury.

“Local media coverage surrounding this case has been extensive, with several of the digital news forums linking autopsy findings, calls for justice and reform within the USVI Department of Human Services,” the motion stated. “Such calls to action, editorials and public outcry have generated a hostile atmosphere which has poisoned the potential jury pool with unaddressed feelings of anger and distress in members of the community to social justice issues beyond that of the normal reporting of the news,” it said.

According to the motion, “Comments left on social media platforms have made it evident that in the eyes of potential jurors, Mr. Christopher’s guilt has already been decided in the court of public opinion,” and the size and demographics of the territory would make it impossible to find a jury pool that was not tainted by the pretrial publicity.

Willocks denied the motion in March.

According to reports at the time, Aaron’s biological father said that he had previously contacted Human Services with concerns about his child’s welfare. In the months after his son’s death the department conducted an internal audit to find out what went wrong.

Commissioner Kimberley Causey-Gomez said in January 2020 that while the audit showed no negligence by department staff, it did show weaknesses in its structure and policies.

Beyond additional training for staff, “Technical assistance is underway to complete a review of the Virgin Islands statutory Children’s Policy, in an effort to identify areas in need of federal compliance as a vehicle to inform needed upgrades to the local practice model for child welfare,” Causey-Gomez said at the time.

This would include establishing a Child Fatality Review Panel of multiagency experts to facilitate expeditious, transparent and ongoing assessment and investigation of incidences to help aid in prevention, she said.

Christopher and Daniel — 22 and 29 at the time, respectively — were arrested about a week after Aaron’s death and were each held on $1 million bail.

Aaron Benjamin Jr. (Source file photo)
Aaron Benjamin Jr. (Source file photo)

Just before she was sentenced in February 2022, a tearful Daniel apologized to the court.

“I should have gotten the bus to take my child. I want to apologize to my mom and to my great-grandmom for the suffering I put them through. I also apologize to the people of St. Croix. Everybody may think I’m a monster, but that’s not true. I’m just guilty of making wrong decisions,” she said.

The judge replied that it was apparent Daniel had suffered throughout the ordeal, but even a chicken will protect her chicks from harm.

“You have to understand, you are the mother. I don’t mean to be harsh on you, because I know you are suffering. I hear you say you are not a monster. You are not a monster at all, but you stopped being a mother,” Willocks said.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.

Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.