Jan. 11, 2007 — Allegations made by a key government witness that he was forced by three police detectives and a local attorney to fabricate his eyewitness statement have delayed the murder trial of two brothers charged in the June 2005 shooting deaths of two New York tourists. However, it is still unknown whether the witness' statement can be admitted as evidence when proceedings begin April 2.
Reports published last month by the Daily News claim that the witness, Goshnell "Foma" Walters — who recently dictated his statement to former Police Detective Joel Dowdye while the two were in prison — has recanted his original statement that he was an eyewitness to the murders, which occurred near the Frenchtown Post Office in the early morning hours of June 15, 2005.
[Note: In the statement to Dowdye, Walters asked specifically not to be identified by name. However, since the Daily News identified Walters in its Dec. 27 article (and Walters' identity is now common knowledge), the Source has elected to use Walters' name.]
In his statement to Dowdye, Walters says he did not see what happened to New York residents Leon H. Roberts and Tristan A. Charlier, but was "forced" by police into saying that he did.
The statement has put a monkey wrench in the government's case against brothers Akil and Jahmal Hart, who, until recently, had been held in jail, unable to post bail, for committing the crimes. After spending approximately 18 months in prison, the Harts were granted bail during a hearing held Wednesday, after V.I. Superior Court Judge Edgar Ross pushed the trial date back until April (See "Defendants in New York Tourists Murder Case Released on Bail").
During Wednesday's hearing, Assistant Attorney General Douglas Dick requested that the government be given more time to investigate the murders. A second investigation was needed, Dick said, "in light of the allegations that have been made by the recantations of Walters against officers in the V.I. Police Department's Major Crimes Unit and Assistant Attorney General Ernest Bason."
While Ross said he would "reluctantly" be granting the government the additional time, he also pointed out that Walters' statement to Dowdye is still unsigned and has not yet been officially entered into evidence.
Ross did not act on a suggestion made by defense attorney Stephen Brusch, who said Walters could be brought in to put his testimony on the record.
The Source on Wednesday obtained a copy of the statement, a 30-page document allegedly handwritten by Dowdye, who was charged last year with murdering ex-girlfriend Sherett James and shooting her companion Daryl "Bogle" Stevens.
In the statement, Walters said he was harassed for more than a week by police detectives Roberto Lima, Mario Stout and Lionel Bess, who followed him and paid visits to the apartment he shared with his girlfriend.
The statement is arranged in a question-and-answer format, where Dowdye has written down his questions along with Walters' answers. In response to Dowdye's question as to where Walters was when the murders occurred, he says, "Really and truly, I don't know when the shootings happened. I was told about the shooting. Two officers [Lima and Stout] just came over and told me that someone told them I was there."
Walters also states that he was able to evade officers on several occasions but was taken into custody one night, after Bess and Stout paid another visit to his apartment. "I was in my underwear," Walters says, "and I asked Stout if I could put on some clothes While they were waiting on me, I put on some clothes and sneaked over the back porch and caught the first safari going west."
Approximately two hours after the leaving the apartment, Stout and another officer caught up with Walters. "Stout pulled me up against the car and searched my pocket and found some crack," Walters says. "Stout said, 'I'm going to lock you up for crack cocaine.' They put me in the car and went with me. They took me to the police station."
According to the statement, Walters was led through a "back door" and taken to the Major Crimes Unit, where he was then interrogated. After telling the police that he "knew nothing" about the two murders, detectives still showed Walters pictures of the crime scene, Walters said.
"Bess then walked up close by me and rest [sic] his gun against my head. I jumped," Walters says, adding that detectives eventually made him sign a fabricated statement, which gives an account of the murders and identifies the shooters.
"So for fear of my life, I signed the papers," Walters says.
Walters adds that police then made him pick the shooters out of an array of pictures. When Dowyde asks in the statement why Walters cooperated, Walters says that he "just wanted to get out of the office and not go to jail."
In the days that followed, Walters said the detectives "drove [him] around" in search of suspects. On one occasion, Walters says he overhead one of the officers saying "that he would get a promotion for doing a good job."
Walters goes on to describe how and when he identified the shooters and says that he was subsequently placed in drug rehabilitation facilities against his will. Walters says that after leaving the facilities, he was taken to Golden Grove prison on St. Croix, upon Bason's orders.
"Attorney Bason told them to take me to Golden Grove, and if I gave them any trouble that he would fly over," Walters says, adding that he remained in Golden Grove for approximately a month and a half before being removed and taken to meet with Bason to prepare for the trial.
Walters says that when he tried to tell Bason about the detectives' actions, Bason called him a "stupid crackhead."
"Bason told me that the two guys were in jail and that I was going to testify [in court], and that was the end of that," Walters says.
The statement ends with Dowdye asking Walters how he felt about being involved with the case. "I feel it is a bunch of bullshit," Walters says, adding that he "didn't know anything" about the murders and was placed in jail because he "failed to cooperate."
"These people don't let me call my family or nothing," Walters says. "I am here in jail in lockdown. And since I'm up here, them people don't care."
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