Alphonso Butler, 27, one of three men arrested for the 2012 shooting of two police officers and robbing a St. Croix restaurant, will serve approximately 75 years for his part in the crime, Judge Robert Molloy said Friday.
In July, Butler was convicted of 17 charges ranging from attempted first-degree murder, assault and robbery to the use of an unlicensed firearm, mayhem and grand larceny for his part in the robbery of patrons at a Cane Bay restaurant and the shooting of V.I. Police Chief Christopher Howell and Police Officer Elsworth Jones as they pursued the suspects.
On Aug. 18, 2012, three men including Butler and suspects Melville Parris, 56, and Delroy Tounge, 20, entered the restaurant, after shooting first at a security guard stationed outside. Once inside, they “shot up the place,” according to the prosecuting attorney, with an AK-47 and a 9 mm firearm. After taking jewelry, cash and cell phones, the three demanded car keys from a patron and escaped.
“This could have been the worst mass shooting in Virgin Islands history,” prosecuting attorney Eric Chancellor said. “They intended to murder.”
Howell and Jones had been notified of the robbery and spotted the car on their way to the scene. The suspects opened fire, wounding the officers. The car was later located in the bushes and, after searching all night, Butler was found in the Frangipani area. Parris and Tounge were arrested a day later.
Howell was shot in the back and received crippling injuries to his right arm. He has had 10 surgeries with more to come, including possible amputation, he told the court.
Jones was shot in the head and arms and lost sight in one eye.
Defense attorney Jomo Meade made several attempts to seek leniency from the judge. He argued that the only testimony that cash was found on his client was made by the arresting officers and there was no evidence placing Butler at the shooting.
Molloy countered that Butler admitted he participated in the robbery and there was evidence he was there at the time of the shooting. When Butler was arrested he had more than $1,200 in cash, including $500-$600 one dollar bills, according to Chancellor.
When Butler was arrested, he was not wearing a shirt, was covered with scratches and blood, and suffering from dehydration – like someone who spent the night on the run, Chancellor said. Although Butler was miles from his home, he said he was visiting a friend. The homeowner where he was found said he did not know Butler.
Meade also objected to allowing victims to give statements before sentencing, but Chancellor pointed out there was no precedent to deny the victims their chance to speak to the court.
Before sentencing, Meade and Chancellor argued whether Butler could be rehabilitated.
Meade said he “went astray” after his father died and received suspended sentences or dismissals for his previous crimes that included grand larceny and first-degree larceny.
Considering his previous record and the “intention to murder,” Chancellor said the court’s main objective should be punishment and keeping the community safe.
Howell said in court Friday, other crimes including murder have been linked to Butler and other suspects, some who have not been charged, but the VIPD did “a lousy job putting the cases together.” He accused Butler and his accomplices of terrorizing and ambushing unarmed citizens and bragging about their “gutless” action.
He asked Molloy to “stop that violent threat” and prevent further injury to police officers and the community. Howell said he “will always be police chief” and continues to feel responsible for his officers.
Molloy listed the names of the victims who testified in court and said they will “never, never forget that day.” He told Butler, “What you did Aug. 18, 2012, was an act of terrorism. You are no different than a terrorist.
Molloy continued, listing almost 300 years in penalties and more than $100,000 in fines, but considering some time will be served concurrently and some consecutively, Butler faces 75 years behind bars. Molloy gave credit for time served and did not mention the possibility for parole.
There have long been questions about the relationship between the suspect Parris and the police chief with the same last name, who was appointed after Howell was injured. It is unknown when there will be a trial for Parris or Tounge.
Although asked by Molloy, none of the other victims in court wished to speak Friday.
Butler was also allowed to speak before sentencing. He said he’d like to appeal his case and hopes to get a chance to take classes while his is incarcerated.
“I just got to do my time,” he said.