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Prosecution Rests in Day Three of Paris Murder Case

Reiterating the charge that Jermaine Paris aided and abetted his half-brother in the shooting death of V.I. Police Officer Ariel Frett in Hospital Ground in 2007, the prosecution rested its case against the 27-year-old Paris Wednesday in Superior Court after three full days of testimony.
Defending Paris, attorney Samuel Joseph got about halfway through his case Wednesday when Judge James Carroll called it a day well after 8 p.m. At least two more defense witnesses are expected to testify Thursday before the case goes to the jury.
While Paris had faced a dozen charges, ranging from first- and second-degree murder to possession of an unlicensed firearm, government prosecutor Jesse Bethel offered the court a new set of charges Wednesday, reduced to five counts in all.
Carroll said that because evidence has only tenuously connected Paris to the murder and therefore stretches the requirements needed to satisfy the aiding and abetting charge that might lead to a murder conviction, he would reserve his decision until at least Thursday as to whether the three most serious counts can stand at all.
Witnesses brought by both sides so far have told various and often conflicting versions of what they saw or heard on Feb. 8, 2007, when off-duty Officer Frett was shot eight times during a fight near Lionel Roberts Stadium in Hospital Ground. Frett died shortly thereafter at Schneider Regional Medical Center.
Half-brothers Basheem Ford and Jermaine Paris were arrested and accused of the killing, but Paris was left to stand trial alone after Ford was killed in a separate shooting in the Market Square neighborhood before the case could go to trial. Chronic legal disputes held up the trial for nearly three years until Monday.
The case centers around a lethal street brawl in the area of Bjerge Gade and Goat Street, about a block from the stadium.
To make its case, the prosecution has relied primarily on the statements and testimony of then- rookie VIPD officer Lorne Clarke, who said he rushed to the scene of gunfire he heard while passing Goat Street southbound on Bjerge Gade around 1:30 p.m. that day.
He said he arrived on foot to witness a struggle between Frett and 16-year-old Ford that ended with Frett falling to the ground. Ford stood over Frett and shot him numerous times, Clarke said.
After identifying himself as a policeman and ordering Ford to drop his weapon, Clarke said Ford aimed at him so he fired and gave chase when Ford ran. Clarke eventually shot Ford 10 times until he fell face down on Goat Street – a fact confirmed by emergency technicians, a surgeon, police and others who had some part in treating or arresting Ford.
While Clarke said he then heard another cluster of gunshots and saw Paris standing near Frett’s body holding a gun, he has so far been the only witness to link Paris with a gun or put him near Frett after the shooting.
Defense witnesses have so far characterized Frett as an aggressor.
Alvin Chinnery, a friend and a neighbor of Paris and Ford, said he was walking home near the Human Services parking lot that day when he saw Frett “in a fast walk with a gun and a stick.” He later described the gun as resembling a black police service pistol, which was how Clarke described the gun that he said Paris leveled at him before he got away.
Chinnery said he got home as soon as he could and soon thereafter heard several bursts of gunfire – “more than 20” shots, he said.
Another neighbor, Margaret Glasford, said she was sitting on her porch on Goat Street with her daughter when she saw Frett swing at Paris with a stick.
“I gonna kill one a you mudda scunt today,” she said she remembers Frett yelling before he swung and missed Paris and then chased him east down Goat Street towards Lima’s Market, where they disappeared around the corner.
Soon thereafter, she said she heard so many shots that “I couldn’t count them. They were like fireworks,” she said, Wednesday.
She said Clarke brought Ford to a bloody halt a few minutes later right in front of Lima’s Market as she watched from the porch.
With three years to remember, forget, read other accounts and now be put under pressure on the stand, all of the witnesses admitted to fuzzy recollections of some of the details, adding as much as they have contradicted each others’ stories.
Tuesday, in perhaps the most detailed and confusing account so far, VITRAN bus driver Cecil DeWindt said he watched the fight through the large window of his bus, which was stuck in traffic in the southbound lane of Bjerge Gade near Goat Street when the fight came into his view.
He said he saw Frett and another “black man” struggle for a black gun in the street until another black man joined in and struck Frett in the head with a piece of concrete, causing Frett to fall down into a walkway in front of a car port. He said another man walked up from near Goat Street and fired a silver pistol multiple times downward in the area where Frett had fallen.
Officer Clarke rushed upon the scene, he said, and he watched as Clarke and the other man exchanged fire across the street, leaving a bullet in his bus’s radiator.
While Clarke said he was wearing his VIPD uniform that day, both DeWindt and Glasford said he was dressed in civilian clothes, which may contribute to Paris’ defense if Joseph argues for self-defense – a possibility that has loomed throughout the trial but has not been argued since opening statements.
Glasford also said she saw Clarke remain with Ford until other officers arrived, which contradicted Clarke’s story that he rushed back to Frett and saw Paris with a black pistol, which he said Paris pointed at him.
Carlo Rosati, a firearms and tool marks examiner for the FBI, was recalled for the second day Wednesday to testify that a bullet found lodged in Frett’s hip matched perfectly the .357 Smith & Wesson revolver that Ford allegedly ditched and that police recovered nearby in a gutter at the scene.
Again on Wednesday, Rosati testified that Ford’s revolver only held six rounds and a speed loader found in his pocket still had six rounds. Frett was shot at least eight times, which Bethel, while the jury was on a break, argued in sidebar meant another weapons was involved.
Rosati and numerous VIPD witnesses have testified to collecting casings for the 10 .38-caliber rounds Clarke fired at Ford, all six casings and bullet fragments from the rounds allegedly fired from a .357 revolver by Ford, and another five casings from a .45-caliber pistol that has never been found.
While Joseph belabored his cross-examinations of law enforcement personnel, including then-VIPD Commissioner James McCall, challenging them on details of what evidence was found where and by whom and were they sure, Carroll ordered him several times to get to his point or abandon certain lines of questioning.
Carroll excluded at least one defense witness late Wednesday.
VIPD Officer Daphne Carty established a chain of custody for most of the crime scene evidence – including the .357, several cell phones, the axe handle Frett may have beat the brothers with — that, until she testified, had been a target that Joseph picked apart over hours of redundant questions.
With the jury excused during a sidebar, Joseph argued that, since Ford is dead and was never convicted of murdering Frett, Paris could not possibly be accused of aiding and abetting.
“He’s innocent until proven guilty. He’s never been proven guilty,” Joseph said of Ford, asking Carroll to acquit Paris of the murder-related charges Wednesday.
“How can you aid and abet someone who’s innocent?” he said.
Since Frett obviously did not shoot himself, and Paris was the only other man besides his brother seen with a gun during the struggle, Bethel argued during the sidebar that the connection to Paris would be simple for a juror to make.
“There is nothing to show that he (Ford) reloaded,” Bethel told Carroll. “You just can’t shoot a person eight times with a gun that only has six bullets.”
Paris remains out on a $75,000 bond, assigned to the third-party custody of his mother and subject to a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.
Joseph said he would conclude his defense on Thursday, at which time the final charges will be decided and the case turned over to the jury.

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