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Charlotte Amalie
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Five Arrested In 2001 Williams Cop-Killing

Five people were arrested Friday during an early morning raid and charged with abducting, torturing and murdering V.I. Police Officer Wendell Williams, a case that has haunted the Virgin Islands Police Department for 11 years.

Calling it "the most significant day in my law enforcement career," St. Croix Police Chief Christopher Howell announced the arrests at a press conference Friday morning.

Howell said he briefed 62 carefully selected officers from the VIPD, the FBI and other agencies at 2 a.m. At 2:30 a.m. they were on their way and quickly subdued three of the four subjects still on St. Croix, all without incident. A fourth suspect was not at home during the raid but later turned himself in to police.

Near Atlanta, Ga., a team of 70 officers including SWAT team from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the FBI converged and arrested the fifth suspect.

Arrested on St. Croix at about 3 a.m. Friday were 32-year-old Sharima Clercent of Estate Two Williams; Jose G. Ventura, 41, of Estate Whim; and Maxililiano Velasquez, 38, of Estate Clifton Hill. Jose M. Rivera Jr., 39, was arrested at about 1 a.m. Friday by Georgia law enforcement. At about 10:45 a.m. the same day, Juan G. Velasquez, 29, surrendered to V.I. police.

The suspects are being held on $1.5 million dollar bail each and are in custody at the Golden Grove Adult Correctional Facility pending court proceedings. Jose M. Rivera Jr., the suspect arrested in Georgia, is being held in custody there pending extradition to the Virgin Islands.

Howell said the suspects "counted on the notion that we would give up," but they were mistaken. The case was never forgotten, he said. "The investigation moved sometimes only inches at a time," but the cold case unit never let go of it.

“This arrest should stand as a reminder to the criminal element that there is no place on this planet you can hide; nor any limitation on the amount of time that passes, that will deter police from continuing any ongoing murder investigation and fulfilling their pledge to bring all perpetrators to face justice," Howell said.

Police Commissioner Henry White congratulated the cold case officers for bringing the suspects to justice.

"With the dedication of committed investigators such as those in the Cold Case Squad the Virgin Islands has seen the resolution of this case which has collectively captured the sentiments this entire community,” White said.

Williams was 49 years old, according to the VIPD, and an 18-year veteran of the force when he disappeared in June 2001. He was last seen when he and a sister drove a relative to the airport. In the days and weeks to come police turned St. Croix upside down, but the only trace ever reported being found was his car, which police discovered burned out in the bush near Castle Burke. Shell casings from a high-powered weapon were found nearby, causing police to upgrade the case from missing persons to homicide.

During Friday’s press conference Howell refused to provide any details on the investigation, answering most questions with "I don’t want to comment." He did say the five people arrested were never employed by the police department and have no connection to law enforcement except for criminal records.

Questions the chief was not willing or able to answer Fridayy morning included: What new information or evidence came to light to finally allow the police to act; what police believe the suspects’ motive was in abducting Williams; whether they believe Williams was abducted specifically because he was an officer or whether the incident might have been random.

Howell did reiterate that it was a very intense investigation and that police and prosecutors were finally convinced they could make a case in court. What that case might be Howell suggested people will have to wait and see when the suspects go to trial.

As the press conference ended, one officer who was on the force at the time Williams disappeared said the arrest brought mixed emotions. The officer, who did not give his name, said, "I’m a little teary, really. It’s something you just never forget."

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