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Police Officer: Dowdye 'Said He Was Defending Himself'

Feb. 28, 2007 — The trial of former Police Detective Joel Dowdye took an unexpected turn Wednesday, as one of the prosecution's key witnesses testified that Dowdye "said he was defending himself" when he shot and killed 22-year-old Sherett James and injured her companion Daren "Bogle" Stevens at the Bunker Hill Hotel in March 2006.
While on the stand, Police Sgt. Milton A. Petersen Sr. explained that he and three other officers met Dowdye at Peterborg Point on St. Thomas after 8 a.m. on March 25, 2006. At the time, Dowdye was "upset," confused and appeared to have drunk three-fourths of a bottle of whisky, Petersen said.
Dowdye was also still holding onto his police-issued firearm, a 40-caliber semi-automatic handgun.
Petersen said that Dowdye subsequently gave an account of the shooting, which occurred around 8 a.m. that morning. "We did get to a point during the conversation where he said he was defending himself," Petersen said.
He added that Dowdye, in his account, said that he had encountered James and Stevens at the Greenhouse Bar and Restaurant the evening before the shooting. "At some point during the evening, he said Sherett did come up and have a conversation with him. He said that Sherett said she felt uncomfortable with the gentleman she was with and indicated that she was perhaps with him not out of her own free will," Petersen said.
However, statements made by another witness earlier in the trial contradict Dowdye's statement. When called to the stand, Ethiopia Frett testified that she and Dowdye did visit the Greenhouse for "two or three minutes" around 1 a.m. on March 25, 2006.
"We went inside, went to the bar on the right side of the room, turned right back around and left," Frett said. Frett added that while she did see James at the Greenhouse that night, neither she nor Dowdye "ever said a word to her."
However, Petersen said Dowyde's alleged conversation with James prompted him to visit the Bunker Hill Hotel a few hours later.
"He said he went to check on her," Petersen explained. "He said he went to the room, where he met up with the male [Stevens], who behaved in a violent manner and attempted to slam the door. Officer Dowyde said he put his foot in the door to stop it from slamming. He said he then observed the male going for his pants, and observed a firearm there. Officer Dowdye said he then opened fire to protect himself."
Dowdye said that at "some point," James became involved "in the struggle," Petersen said. "Officer Dowdye indicated that he got between them to prevent the situation from escalating. At this point he told me, 'That's when it happened.'"
Since Petersen said he did not ask Dowdye to further explain his statement, it is still unclear exactly who was involved in the initial "struggle," when James was shot and whether the three individuals were standing inside the hotel room.
However, Dowdye said he subsequently fled the scene because he thought Stevens was "chasing after him," Petersen said.
In his opening statement, Dowdye's defense attorney Stephen Brusch told the jury on Tuesday that Dowdye's actions were not intentional, but a reaction to a "perceived threat."
"The evidence shows that he [Dowdye] was under extreme stress, that what happened was not intentional murder," Brusch said when the trial began. "It was a threat, a reaction to a threat that Officer Dowdye perceived. It doesn't have to be an actual threat, but what he believed to be a threat."
Brusch did not have an opportunity to question Petersen Wednesday, as V.I. Judge Brenda J. Hollar recessed the trial around 7:45 p.m. The trial will resume at 9 a.m. on Thursday.
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