Sept. 6, 2002 – St. Croix and the Virgin Islands were changed forever on the afternoon of Sept. 6, 1972, when the clubhouse of the Rockefeller-owned Fountain Valley Golf Course was invaded by five masked men wielding shotguns, handguns and automatic weapons.
Within a few minutes, eight people, including four tourists and two Rock Resort workers, lay dead, shot by the intruders, who then fled into the surrounding rainforest as suddenly as they had appeared. Eight more people, most employed by the golf course, were either shot at or wounded by the assailants.
For years, even decades, to come, what happened on that day would be a blight on St. Croix's image as a vacation destination.
Following by a day the slaying of Israeli athletes by Arab terrorists at the Olympic Games in Munich, the "Fountain Valley massacre," as it was quickly called, brought intense international media scrutiny to St. Croix as police, FBI and U.S. Marshals Service personnel initiated a massive islandwide search for the gunmen.
Within a week, five African-Caribbean men, all native Virgin Islanders and at least one of them a Vietnam veteran, were under arrest. Charged with felonies ranging from robbery to murder, they were held without bail at the new Anna's Hope Detention Facility on St. Croix.
The five — Warren Ballentine, Beaumont Gereau, Raphael Joseph, Ishmael LaBeet and Meral Smith — stood trial in U.S. District Court 10 months later.
U.S. Attorney Julio A. Brady and Milton Branch, a federal prosecutor assigned to the case by the U.S. Justice Department, spearheaded the prosecution.
Brady would later run twice for governor, serve one term as lieutenant governor, and serve as a Territorial Court judge and as the territory's attorney general. A decade after the trial, Branch would serve as commissioner of Public Safety (now Police) in the cabinet of Gov. Juan F. Luis.
Heading up the defense were three mainland lawyers — the celebrated William Kunstler and Margaret Ratner of New York and Chauncey Eskridge of Chicago.
Kunstler was renowned for his association with activist political and legal causes, having defended the "Chicago Seven" after the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention and Native Americans arrested after incidents at Wounded Knee.
Eskridge, a highly respected civil rights attorney, counted among his many clients the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and boxing icon Muhammad Ali.
Court-appointed local attorneys Ron Mitchell of St. Thomas and Leroy Mercer of St. Croix rounded out the defense team.
Federal marshals James Macedon, a Crucian native, and Krim Ballentine, assigned by the federal government, supervised the tightly controlled federal courtroom in Christiansted's Government House. Krim Ballentine, who also had directed security at the "Chicago Seven" trial, is a St. Thomas resident today.
After a lengthy pre-trial evidentiary hearing a dramatic, tension-filled trial, and a record-breaking jury deliberation, "The Fountain Valley Five," as the defendants had come to be known, were found guilty of eight counts of murder and multiple counts of assault and robbery.
Minutes after the verdict was delivered by a local jury, the five were sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Warren Young to eight consecutive life sentences at mainland federal penal institutions.
Within an hour, three Antilles Airboats whisked the five from the Christiansted waterfront to detention cells in Puerto Rico. A few days later, they were transported by the U.S. Marshals Service to federal prisons in Georgia, Nevada, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Illinois.
A decade later, LaBeet was back in the territory in connection with a civil suit he had brought before District Judge Almeric L. Christian. On Old Year's Night, as he was aboard a New York-bound American Airlines jet being returned to prison on the mainland under heavy security, LaBeet obtained a gun that had been hidden in a lavatory and used it to surprise his guards and successfully hijack the plane to Cuba.
Twelve years later, Joseph was among group of individuals convicted of felonies ranging from embezzlement to murder who received Christmas-time pardons from Gov. Alexander A. Farrelly as he was ending his second and final term of office. The governor's action prompted a storm of controversy and public outrage.
Joseph was found dead in 1998. The medical examiner's report said the cause of death was unclear; Joseph had a heart condition and had alcohol and amphetamines in his system at the time of death.
LaBeet remains the subject of rumors, ranging from his being incarcerated in Havana to his being conscripted into Cuban President Fidel Castro's army and deployed to Angola.
Warren Ballantine, Gereau and Smith remain in prisons.
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