Shaquon Gumbs lost control of his blue Hyundai Accent and crashed on A.Th. Illidge Road shortly after being fatally shot. (File photo)
PHILIPSBURG--The Joint Court of Justice on Monday upheld the murder conviction of Jose Luis Arrindell Moreno (22), but took two years off his sentence on account of his youth and because he was a first-time offender when he pulled the trigger and ended another young man’s life.
The Court of First Instance last July found Arrindell Moreno guilty of murdering 21-year-old Shaquon Adrien Kaheem Gumbs on April 20, 2021, near Tan Tan Supermarket on A.Th. Illidge Road. The lower court judge followed the prosecutor’s demands and ordered the Dutch Quarter resident to remain behind bars for 20 years.
Just like he did in the lower court proceedings 15 months before, Arrindell Moreno denied that he was the one who shot the victim in the abdomen at close range.
“I never shoot anyone in my life,” he told the panel of three judges during his appeal trial last month.
The Solicitor-General saw the case differently, considering it proven that Arrindell Moreno had successfully executed a plan to kill the victim in cold blood. He asked the judges to confirm the lower court’s sentence.
Defence lawyer Shaira Bommel had pleaded for her client’s acquittal based on a lack of sufficient legal and convincing evidence.
The case against Arrindell Moreno was based almost exclusively on surveillance camera footage, and a police-made compilation was shown during the appeals trial.
The compilation video starts three hours before the shooting and tracked a man entering an alley. Arrindell Moreno confirmed to the judges that this person was him and said he used that alley to get to his house.
However, when a differently dressed man walked out of the alley about an hour later, Arrindell Moreno denied that this person was him.
The compilation tracked that man to a local bar, and followed him as he rode back-and-forth on a scooter, changed into dark clothing, and waited for 15 minutes by the roadside with two others. Finally, around 6:49pm, the man drives off on the scooter in the direction of Middle Region, out of the camera’s view.
Two minutes later, a scooter with a lone driver dressed in black is seen travelling in the opposite direction toward Belvedere. The victim’s car is behind the scooter. Suddenly, the scooter makes a U-turn, stops next to the victim’s vehicle, and a flash can be seen from the rider’s left hand.
Shot and bleeding, Gumbs turned his car around and headed towards Middle Region, probably trying to drive himself to St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC). However, he did not make it and crashed his blue Hyundai Accent into a wall further up A.Th. Illidge Road. He later died of his injuries.
During the investigation, two police officers identified Arrindell Moreno as the man who had emerged from the alley and had been followed until two minutes before the fatal shot was fired. They also identified Arrindell Moreno as the gunman because of his “sitting position” on the scooter.
Bommel questioned the reliability of these identifications during the appeals trial, but the Joint Court ruled them to be reliable because one officer had encountered Arrindell Moreno several times in the past and both had been present when he was arrested for an unrelated offence just nine days before the murder.
The officers’ identification was supported by the testimony of a man who had been at the scene, the Joint Court ruled. For a time, this man was suspected of being an accomplice. However, authorities had showed him a still image taken from the compilation video footage, and he said that the man who came out of the alley was Arrindell Moreno.
Bommel had also emphasised her client’s story that he was home that evening getting his hair braided. She supported this alibi with the testimony of a witness who said the gunman did not look like Arrindell Moreno and that she had seen him at his house shortly after the shooting.
The Joint Court ruled that this witness was unreliable. In addition to being too far away to see the shooter’s face, the court found that Arrindell Moreno had “sufficient time to drive home” before the witness walked by.
“This incident had the character of a drive-by shooting,” the Joint Court said in its 13-page verdict. “The defendant was on his scooter, made a U-turn, drove up to the driver’s side of the victim’s car, and unceremoniously shot him directly in the stomach area.”
Although reducing Arrindell Moreno’s sentence to 18 years in prison, which is in line with the court’s sentencing guidelines, the Joint Court said it had taken into account that he has not “taken any responsibility for the suffering and sorrow he has caused to others.”
“He has also provided no insight into the reasons for his actions and has not expressed any regret,” the Joint Court said. “What is frightening is the apparent ease with which he felt he had to take the life of another young man.”
The Joint Court on Monday also confirmed Arrindell Moreno’s lower court conviction for gun possession. This charge stemmed from the .38 calibre automatic pistol and six rounds of live ammunition that were found in his pants pocket when he was arrested on July 9, 2021.
Additionally, the Joint Court upheld the compensation payment to the victim’s family, which amounts to US $5,000 for funeral expenses.
Arrindell Moreno has just one more appeal remaining, which is to the Dutch Supreme Court. However, this court does not re-evaluate evidence and only determines whether the other courts applied the law correctly.