Philipsburg, ST. MAARTEN — Michael King soundly slept in a chair in front of the flickering television as three young men, buzzed on liquor and a night of violence, climbed onto the balcony of his beach house in search of easy money.
The trial is expected to conclude today:Defense presents its version of events.Prosecution’s response.Final statements from defendants.
They had spotted lights on at his villa and open shutters, indicating that the place was occupied and potential prey lay inside. They quietly crept inside through an unlocked door.
The 53-year-old Mount Pleasant man didn’t realize they were there until they tapped his face with a pistol and demanded cash.
In the minutes that followed, the retired insurance executive’s world imploded in a burst of gruesome and unnecessary violence. When it was over, he and his wife Thelma, who the men bound, gagged and blindfolded, lay dead in a pool of blood, their throats slit and their money gone, island prosecutors said.
Their pockets stuffed with cash, the men then headed for an island brothel, where they blew some of their illegal proceeds on booze and prostitutes, authorities said.
The three men charged in the killings — Meyshane Kemar Johnson, 28; Jeremiah Chevon Mills, 17; and Jamal Jefferson Woolford, 20 — appeared Tuesday in a cramped, historic courtroom in this tourist-friendly city. They are each charged with six offenses related to the robbery and slayings of the Kings and a Chinese restaurant holdup earlier that same September evening.
Prosecutors have recommended life in prison for Johnson, accused of savaging the Kings with a pair of knives. They recommend 28 years for Mills and 24 for Woolford, who reportedly participated to a lesser degree in the actual killings.
The proceeding, expected to conclude today, is much different than trials in the United States. Much of the first half of the day consisted of Judge Tamara Tijhuis questioning the suspects about their actions and roles in the events of Sept. 19.
Each gave damning statements to police about their actions, and each admitted Tuesday to various criminal acts. But their stories have changed with time, and Johnson, who initially divulged all sorts of detailed depravities, now contends that he can’t remember a thing about that night.
“I said to myself ‘Is this possible?’ But I just don’t see myself that way,” he told the court. “Why would I kill somebody I didn’t know?”
Later, prosecutors recounted details of the suspects’ troubled lives and offered their take on what occurred, based on confessions, witness statements, video, autopsy files, phone records and various other evidence.
“Mike and Thelma King were slaughtered because three young men decided they needed easy money,” prosecutor Dounia Benammar told the judge.
According to the prosecution, things played out this way:
Johnson, a short and wiry Jamaican living in the country illegally, picked up Mills, his cousin, in a borrowed Hyundai with tinted windows and a pin-up girl sticker on the rear window. They grabbed Mills’ friend Woolford as well, and as they drove around drinking, Mills suggested they commit a robbery to get some cash.
The settled on the Happy Star Chinese restaurant. While Johnson sat in the getaway car with the engine running, Mills and Woolford dashed inside with pellet guns, scared the clientele and took off with handfuls of cash.
Police spotted them as they tried to make their getaway and blasted several rounds at the car, with one lodging in the trunk. The robbers brushed off the close call and raced off in search of more action.
They switched license plates and drove around, winding around the French side of the island until they landed back in the Dutch territory. They headed into the Cupecoy area, where Johnson parked the car at Ocean Club Villas.
They walked down to the beach and spotted the lights on in the Kings’ beachfront home. They then headed there with robbery on their minds.
They roughed up Mike King some to get him to divulge where his money was. He told them he kept some cash in an upstairs safe in the bedroom where his wife was sleeping. Johnson held Mike King in a choke hold, with a knife pressed to his neck, while Mills and Woolford snuck upstairs.
They caught Thelma King unaware as well, scaring her so much she had trouble opening the safe on the first couple of tries.
Mills said he promised Thelma King they wouldn’t hurt her. It wouldn’t take long to break that promise.
After Mills and Woolford marched her downstairs, they tore up a towel and used the strips to tie her to a chair. They put a gag in her mouth and blindfolded her.
About this point their stories start to differ, prosecutors said.
Johnson told police he cut Mike King’s throat almost by accident when King suddenly moved in an attempt to help his wife. He explained that he then stabbed him again because King was suffering.
He told police he slit Thelma King’s throat as well because he thought she would be in too much pain losing her husband.
Prosecutors said the severity of Michael King’s initial wound doesn’t support Johnson’s story. It was a deep cut, not a glancing blow. Johnson then stabbed King in the back with so much force that the tip of the knife broke off. He had one of his accomplices — most likely Mills — hand him another knife, which Johnson used to stab King in the neck several more times, severing a key artery, prosecutors said.
Prosecutor Georges van den Eshof said Johnson then turned on Thelma, whom he described as “a completely harmless and helpless victim.” An autopsy showed her throat was cut twice, so deeply it severed her windpipe and scarred vertebrae on the other side, he said.
Mills and Woolford insist they were outside when the killings occurred. While Johnson appeared to have been alone in the house when Thelma King was killed, all indications are that the other two men were around for Mike King’s stabbing and could have intervened to save his wife, prosecutors said.
They left after the violence, and Johnson told police he tossed the second knife into the ocean and washed his bloody hands in the surf. After using whiskey to finish the cleanup, they went in search of prostitutes and liquor, though none of the three was sure which robbery loot financed this excursion.
Mills also maintained that he wasn’t there — “I don’t know nothing about a murder” — and he continued to push a story that he and his friends stole a brick of cocaine from the Kings’ safe along with a stack of $100 bills. Prosecutors and the judge said the assertion appeared baseless and that forensic tests showed no trace of drugs in the safe.
The Kings’ relatives and friends packed the small courtroom and sat quietly, some sniffing back tears, as the horrific evening was recounted again and again.
Prosecutors and the judge quoted a heartfelt statement the family provided to the court. They said they and the family had one burning question: Why didn’t the suspects just leave after getting the cash instead of killing the couple?
The suspects offered no firm answers to that question during the more than six-hour proceeding.
Again and again, Johnson kept claiming memory loss and Mills kept insisting, “There was no plan. There was never a plan. It just happened.”
Defense attorneys will get a chance to argue their positions when the trial resumes this morning.
The judge is expected to render a verdict and impose sentencing in early May.
Michael and Thelma King were found stabbed to death in their condo in St. Maartens in September 2012(Source:Facebook)×
Michael and Thelma King were found stabbed to death in their condo in St. Maarten in September.×
Meyshane Kemar Johnson (from left), Jeremiah Chevon Mills and Jamal Jefferson Woolford, all defendants in the slayings of Michael and Thelma King in St. Maarten, are led from the courthouse after Tuesday’s testimony.×
Jeremiah Chevon Mills, 17, a defendant in the homicide of Michael and Thelma King in St. Maarten is led from the courthouse after Tuesday's testimony. (Glenn Smith/Staff)×
Jamal Jefferson Woolford, 20, a defendant in the homicide of Michael and Thelma King in St. Maarten is led from the courthouse after Tuesday's testimony. (Glenn Smith/Staff)×