A judge in St. Maarten this morning imposed a life prison term on a 29-year-old man who fatally stabbed Michael and Thelma King during a September robbery at the Mount Pleasant couple’s island villa.
Judge Tamara Tijhuis handed down the sentence after finding Meyshane Kemar Johnson and two other men guilty in connection with the gruesome killings.
His co-defendants, Jeremiah Chevon Mills, 18, and Jamal Jefferson Woolford, 21, received 28 years and 22 years, respectively. They are believed to have played a lesser role in the actual killings.
The judge mostly followed the prosecutors’ recommended sentences in the case. She gave Woolford two years less than the prosecution had recommended after determining there was not enough evidence to prove he was an accessory to the actual killings, Finley King, Michael King’s brother, said.
She did, however, find that Mills was an accessory and had likely handed a second knife to Johnson after the first blade broke while Johnson was attacking Michael King.
Todd King, another brother, said he and his relatives were relieved and impressed with the hard work of prosecutors and the judge on the case. Life was the maximum sentence available, as St. Maarten does not have the death penalty.
“This is everything they could do under their law,” Todd King said. “We were very happy with the outcome.”
The prospect of life for Johnson surprised some islanders, despite the severity of the crime. Life sentences are rare here because Dutch law strives to provide a “ray of hope” for offenders to encourage rehabilitation.
During the trio’s two-day trial in September, Johnson’s attorney fought for a more lenient sentence for her client. Johnson, who provided detailed statements to police about the killings after his arrest, claimed at trial to have no recollection of Sept. 19, the night of the murders.
Johnson showed little emotion as the sentence was imposed, and he smiled as he was led from the courtroom, Finley King said. By contrast, Mills was clearly bothered by his sentence. He fidgeted in his chair, crushed a paper cup in his hand and mumbled something under his breath, he said.
The trio declined an opportunity to address the court. But Tijhuis had plenty of words for them, admonishing the men for taking innocent lives, saddling the King family with grief and harming the friendly image of St. Maarten, the Kings’ relatives said.
“We were really pleased with the judge. She was remarkable,” Karen King Moser, Michael King’s sister said. “It was exactly what should have been done. And it was just such a relief to hear her compassion.”
Johnson, Mills and Woolford were accused of entering the Kings’ Cupecoy villa to rob them after committing another hold-up at a Chinese restaurant earlier the same evening.
Prosecutors said that while Johnson held Michael King at knifepoint, Mills and Woolford tied Thelma King to a chair and gagged and blindfolded her. Johnson reportedly slit Michael King’s throat and repeatedly stabbed him before taking a knife to Thelma King while she was helpless and bound with pieces of a shredded towel.
The suspects are believed to have escaped with about $80,000 in jewelry and cash.
The Kings’ relatives have traveled to the island several times since the killings, making sure the family was represented at each of the suspects’ court hearings.
Todd King said he and his relatives were overcome with a flood of emotions when the verdicts finally came down. They remained rooted in their seats as the courtroom cleared, hugging one another and fighting back tears.
“It was very intense,” he said.
Finley King agreed, and said he hopes the outcome of the case will bring his family some closure. “It was very emotional, but we feel like maybe we can move on a little bit from here,” he said.
The suspects, however, have 14 days in which to appeal the judgement. Johnson’s attorney has already indicated she will likely file an appeal.
Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.