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HomeNewsLocal newsTrial of Suspect in Shooting Death at Home Depot Delayed to September

Trial of Suspect in Shooting Death at Home Depot Delayed to September

The murder trial of Justin Matthews will now take place almost three years to the day that his ex-girlfriend was shot dead in the parking lot of Home Depot on St. Thomas after the court ruled the defense may have more time to prepare due to a change in attorneys. Jury selection had been scheduled to start on Monday.

Justin Matthews (VIPD photo)

Superior Court Judge Denise M. Francois granted the continuance in a written order Wednesday, rescheduling jury selection to Aug. 26 at 9 a.m. in courtroom three of the Alexander A. Farrelly Justice Center on St. Thomas, and the start of the trial to Sept. 9.

The change comes after Public Defender Laina B. Arras took over the case from colleague Ramiro Orozco, who is leaving the office. At a pretrial conference on Jan. 8, they asked the court for more time for Arras to fully investigate the facts and adequately prepare a defense.

Francois agreed, writing in her order that “the interests of justice served by granting the requested continuance greatly outweigh the public’s best interest. This Motion is not intended to delay proceedings. Rather, the goal of this Motion is to meet the best interests of justice.”

Matthews is charged with first-degree murder and 10 other counts in the shooting death of his one-time girlfriend Keoner Baron, 20, on the afternoon of Sept. 4, 2021, as she sat under a tree in the Home Depot parking lot, waiting for a ride home following her shift at the store. He has been in custody since his arrest the next day, with bail set at $200,000 cash, with no 10 percent security permitted.

Matthews, who was 23 at the time of his arrest, has pleaded not guilty. If convicted of the most serious offense, he faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.

According to an affidavit by V.I. Police Detective Shenika Simon that was filed as part of the court record, officers responding to a 911 call at 4:10 p.m. on Sept. 4, 2021, found Baron lying unresponsive in the Home Depot parking lot with multiple gunshot wounds. She was taken to Schneider Regional Medical Center, where she died of her injuries. Simon said officers collected 11 9mm shell casings at the scene.

The investigation revealed that Matthews and Baron had been dating for about two years and she had broken off the relationship three days before she was killed, the affidavit stated.

The shooting, which was witnessed by several bystanders, shook the community and generated media coverage and comment on social media, prompting Matthews to file motions in July 2022 to have his trial moved out of the territory and an alleged confession suppressed. He later withdrew the latter motion, and Francois denied the bid to move the trial.

Any concerns over potentially biased jurors can be addressed during voir dire, Francois said at the time, referring to the process by which potential jurors are vetted. “In addition, the Court is not persuaded that the potential jury pool for Matthews’ trial is so polluted, necessitating a change in venue,” she wrote.

Matthews was free on an unsecured $2,000 bond on charges of stalking and disturbance of the peace/threats in an unrelated case from June 20, 2020, when the Home Depot shooting occurred, according to court documents. Under a plea deal, he pleaded guilty in February 2022 to disturbance of the peace and was sentenced to 90 days in jail.

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