March 2, 2007 — Pictures of Sherett James' dead body flashed across a projection screen in V.I. Superior Court Friday, causing many individuals in the courtroom to grimace, cover their eyes or burst into tears. While some chose to go into the hallway, their screams could still be heard inside, as prosecuting attorneys in former Police Detective Joel Dowdye's murder trial made their closing arguments.
"Bam, bam, bam, bam, bam," shouted prosecuting attorney Cornelius Williams, simultaneously banging his hand against a desk. "Those were the shots, the sound that rang out at the Bunker Hill Hotel on the morning of March 25, 2006."
Williams painted a vivid picture of the scene, saying that Dowdye came to the hotel with the intention of killing James and her companion, local radio personality Daren Stevens. Sitting in the audience, Stevens hung his head as Williams spoke and was sobbing when close-ups of James' gunshot wounds were shown to the jury.
Williams explained that all the evidence presented in the trial, which began on Monday, points to one "inevitable" conclusion: that Dowyde shot two people and should be found guilty on all charges.
According to V.I. Superior Court Judge Brenda J. Hollar, who is presiding over the trial, Dowdye faces first- and second-degree murder, attempted murder and first-degree assault charges for his role in the shooting.
According to testimony presented over the course of the trial, James sustained two gunshot wounds, one to the left cheek, and another to the back of the head. Stevens also sustained two wounds, one to the abdomen and one to the back — which punctured a lung and left bullet fragments in his chest (See "Judge Denies Defense's Motion for Acquittal in Dowdye Murder Trial").
"How close was this to being a double murder? We heard during the trial that Mr. Stevens had a pool of blood around his lung, and that he would have died if he hadn't been treated for the wounds," Williams said.
Holding up physical evidence — such as Dowdye's police-issued handgun and a bedspread partially covered in blood — Williams said that Dowdye, after seeing James with Stevens the evening before the incident occurred, was motivated by jealousy and intended to leave the island after shooting the two victims.
Pulling from testimony given during the trial, Williams added that Dowdye told his ex-wife shortly after the incident that he had "killed two people." Phone records also show that Dowdye waited almost two hours before alerting a supervisor, Williams said.
In his closing argument, Dowyde's defense attorney, Stephen Brusch, refuted the prosecution's statements, saying that Williams and co-counsel Nolan Paige had not presented "any evidence" to show that Dowdye had "intentionally" killed James.
"The government's case is like a poor actor that shouts and struts across the stage — full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing," Brusch said. He added that the jury should not be "fooled" into reaching a verdict but rather consider all the facts in the case.
While Brusch additionally described James' death as "tragic," he said the jury should also not let their emotions and "sympathy" outweigh the fact that evidence presented during the trial does not show that Dowdye committed the crime "willfully, deliberately and with malice."
After taking the stand on Friday, Dowdye said that he received a call from James a few hours before the incident occurred. "While I was at home, I got a call from Sherett, and she was telling me that she was frightened. She didn't say why, but I asked her if she wanted me to come and get her. She told me she was at the Bunker Hill Hotel," Dowdye said.
In his closing argument, Brusch argued that in order to refute Dowdye's statement, the prosecution should have presented James' cell phone records, which would have shown whether or not she placed a call to Dowdye around 7 a.m. on March 25.
"The police found two cell phones in Sherett James' car. Where is the evidence from the cell phones? Where is the witness from the cell phone company to show that she did not make a call to Joel Dowdye that morning?" Brusch asked the jury.
Earlier in the day, Dowdye testified that he and Stevens were involved in a struggle upon his arrival at the Bunker Hill Hotel.
"When I got to room No. 43, I stood up by the column in the hallway. I heard talking, so I waited," Dowdye said. "The door opened and Bogle [Stevens] was there. I walked over to the door and said, 'Good morning, what's up.' He said, 'What the fuck are you doing here,' and grabbed at me. When he went under his shirt, I saw his gun, so I jumped back and pulled my weapon. He lunged back at me, so I got my gun out and just fired shots and got out of the area."
Dowdye added that he did not know how many shots were fired or that James was in the room at the time the struggle ensued. Dowdye said he fled the scene because he thought Stevens was "coming after" him.
Over the past few days, two of the prosecution's witnesses have testified that Dowdye claimed he was defending himself. On Wednesday, Sgt. Milton Petersen, Dowdye's former supervisor, said that Dowdye told him he only opened fire on Stevens after the two were involved in an altercation at the hotel in the early morning hours of March 25, 2006.
According to Petersen, Dowdye told him that he had encountered James at the Greenhouse Bar and Restaurant on St. Thomas approximately six or seven hours before the incident occurred. "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.
Police Detective Lionel Bess testified that Dowdye gave a similar statement later that day, after he had surrendered himself to police around 11:40 a.m. — approximately four and a half hours after the shooting occurred.
In his statement, Dowdye said he went to Bunker Hill after receiving an early morning telephone call from James, who sounded "like she was having a problem with the gentleman she was with," Bess explained on Thursday.
"He [Dowdye] said that after he went to the hotel and went upstairs, the door to the hotel room opened and he saw Bogle [Stevens]. Bogle asked Dowdye why he was there and attempted to close the door, but Dowdye put his foot in the door," Bess said.
Dowdye then said he and Stevens got involved in a struggle, during which time shots were fired. "Dowdye said that while he was discharging his firearm, Sherett got in between him and Bogle to prevent them from fighting," Bess said.
On Friday, Dowdye said he did not remember telling Bess that James was involved in the struggle.
Later in his closing statement, Brusch argued that Bess had provided false testimony and that his statement was given simply to "force" the jury into making the "wrong conclusions."
While on the stand, Dowdye indicated that he traveled to Peterborg Point to "kill himself." Brush argued that Dowdye's statement did not indicate that he was guilty, but rather showed his client was "sorry about what happened."
"The prosecution is trying to force the case, to make you, the jury, conclude that this was a premeditated killing and that Joel Dowdye is guilty," Brusch said. "But the evidence is not there — it's simply not there. He was going to Sherett James' rescue. Yes, he shot her, but he didn't intend to shoot her. He didn't intend to kill her."
The trial will resume at 9 a.m. Saturday, when the jury begins its deliberations.
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