Defendant walks free before verdict in armed robbery, kidnapping case

Defendant walks free before verdict  in armed robbery, kidnapping case

PHILIPSBURG--Just one day after standing trial in the Court of First Instance on armed robbery and kidnapping charges, a man M.K.A. (33) was released from the Point Blanche prison on Thursday although the verdict is not due for another three weeks.

  However, A., who has been living in St. Maarten without a residence permit, was immediately handed over to Immigration and Border Protection Services (IBPS). He is set to be deported to his native Trinidad and Tobago today, Friday.

  A.’s lawyer Brenda Brooks confirmed her client’s release and pending deportation to The Daily Herald on Thursday evening.

  “Myself and my colleague Thaisa Heymans, along with the rest of the team at Brooks and Associates, are truly happy with the judge’s decision to order the immediate release of our client,” Brooks said in an invited comment. “After dedicating the time and energy in a case and getting positive results, it reassures us that it is all worthwhile to do what we do best, and that is to fight for people’s rights.”

  A. and co-defendant S.E.O.C. (30) are accused of a total of eight crimes, which include armed robbery, kidnapping, fencing, assault, gun possession and threatening with a weapon. The latter was originally charged as attempted murder/manslaughter, but the prosecutor said during Wednesday’s trial that he did not consider the homicide charge proven.

  C. and A. denied any involvement during the nine-hour-long trial.

  Brooks and C.’s lawyer Shaira Bommel pleaded for full acquittals, arguing that there is a lack of legal and convincing evidence for conviction.

  Considering the defendants guilty on all counts, the prosecutor had demanded a 12-year prison sentence, with a deduction of time served in pre-trial detention.

  Although the judge will render a verdict in this case on March 6, he has now decided that A.’s continued detention is no longer necessary.

  Being released before a verdict is unusual, but not unheard of. In the Dutch legal system, a judge can release a suspect from custody at any stage of a criminal proceeding.

  A.’s immediate release may indicate that the judge does not see enough proof of his guilt and is leaning toward a full acquittal. It can also mean that he will only be found guilty of the lesser crimes on the indictment, and the punishment will be less than the time he has already spent in jail.

  The judge ordered C.’s release a month ago, ruling in a pro-forma hearing that the evidence tying C. to the robbery was insufficient to keep him locked up in his cell at the Point Blanche prison.

  In total, C. and A. each spent about 310 days behind bars because of this case.

  However, even if the judge finds C. and A. not guilty next month, their legal troubles may not be over. The prosecution has the right to appeal the lower court’s verdict, which will send the case to be tried at the Joint Court of Justice.

The allegations

  During Wednesday’s trial, the prosecutor argued that C. and A. were part of a five-man team who robbed Island Treasure Jewelers in Maho on the night of January 16, 2023.

  One of the robbers smashed the display cases with a metal battering ram, while the others shovelled no fewer than 260 pieces of jewellery into a black bag. One man also fired a shot, which left a bullet hole in the rolling shutter of a neighbouring store.

  The robbers were in and out in less than two minutes, fleeing in a white van towards Lowlands with approximately US $278,000 worth of diamond and gold jewellery.

  The prosecutor also suspected C. and A. of forcing two youngsters into a vehicle and making them reveal information about now-convicted armed robber Delancy “Chino” Kartokromo (34).

  Kartokromo had broken into A.’s home on March 1, 2023, and made off with clothing, electronics, $7,000 in cash and, according to the prosecutor, the stolen jewels.

  C. and A. told the court on Wednesday that they had gone to Kartokromo’s home to retrieve their belongings that day, after learning that he was responsible for the burglary. However, both defendants denied that they had had guns and fired shots at the scene.

  They also denied forcing a 17-year-old friend of Kartokromo to get into their car, or that they had interrogated him until he gave up the location of the goods stolen from A.’s apartment. Both defendants disputed the prosecutor’s allegation that they mainly wanted to get back the vast quantity of jewellery originally taken in the Maho robbery.

  Similarly, C. and A. told the court that they had not pressured a 15-year-old to reveal the whereabouts of Kartokromo’s burglary accomplice on March 4, 2023.

  Both youngsters appeared in court on Wednesday, testifying that they had not been kidnapped.

  The 17-year-old said he had asked for a ride home and stepped into the car willingly. The 15-year-old said he had not gotten into the car at all, although this contradicted A.’s testimony that he had driven around with the teenager for several minutes.

  Last September, the Court of First Instance found Kartokromo guilty of burgling A.’s home on March 1, 2023. He was also convicted of armed robbery, threatening with a weapon and possession of marijuana, which stemmed from unrelated incidents.

  Kartokromo is now serving a six-year sentence at the Point Blanche prison.


The evidence

  The prosecutor on Wednesday primarily used wiretapped conversations, cell phone tower data and items found in later house searches to support his theory of the defendants’ guilt.

  C. and A. became suspects in the jewellery store robbery investigation after police received information that they had been involved, the prosecutor told the court.

  This led authorities to tap their mobile phones, and shortly after the robbery A. was heard talking about pawning jewellery. Later on, authorities heard someone telling A. that they did not know how C. could be arrested for armed robbery as police did not recover his “big, big chain.”

  On the day of the robbery, both defendants’ mobile phones pinged off telecommunication towers in Maho at the exact times of the robbery and followed the suspected escape route over the French border, the prosecutor argued.

  Police also found several pieces of jewellery in a search of A.’s home, and the prosecutor told the court that the jewellery store owner recognised a ring as one of the items stolen in the robbery.

  The prosecutor also used wire-tapped conversations to support his theory of the alleged shooting and kidnappings in early March 2023. At the time, C.’s and A.’s phones were still tapped as part of the jewellery store investigation.

  According to the prosecutor, C. told someone on the morning of March 1 that he needed to “borrow that toy.”

  C. said in another call: “Them man say they clipping us tonight, so I tried to clip one but I ain’t catch him good.”

  Later that month, A. is heard telling an unknown woman: “I end up taking one of the little fellas and beat them bad in order for them to tell me where my [things] be.”

  Two minutes after the 15-year-old’s parents reported that their son had been kidnapped, C. is heard talking to an unknown man. The prosecutor told the court that A. could be heard in the background saying, “Don’t let him go.”

  According to the prosecutor, C. replied: “No, I won’t let him go. He going to say where the other partner lives.”

  Both defendants denied that the tapped conversations were about illegal activity. C., in particular, told the court that police did not understand what he was talking about.

  Brooks described the case file as “sloppy” and “solely built on circumstantial evidence.”

  Bommel, similarly, argued that the robbery allegation was supported by “too little direct evidence” and described the evidence for the shooting and kidnapping charges as comprising “so much conflicting information that who knows what really happened.”

  Both defence lawyers questioned the timeline of the robbery put forward by the prosecutor, and emphasised their clients’ alibis.

  Bommel argued that it has not been established that the robbers fled over the French border into Lowlands, adding that the van could have driven toward Mullet Bay and stopped until the coast was clear.

  Bommel also argued that cell phone tower pings cannot always determine where a person is located.

  “When a cell tower is overloaded, the signal from a mobile phone can jump to the next nearest,” she said. “This could lead to my phone in Philipsburg being recorded on the tower in Guana Bay, for example. It does not mean that I’m in Guana Bay.”

  As for the ring found in A.’s home, Brooks argued that authorities cannot determine with absolute certainty from which store an item originates. “You can walk the whole of Frontstreet and find similar rings,” she said.

The Daily Herald

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