Defendants apologize to families of Michael, Thelma King as St. Maarten testimony ends
PHILIPSBURG, ST. MAARTEN — One man used to hold delusional chats with a giant, imaginary frog. Another was so troubled that his mother thought evil spirits had nested in his head. The third was a broke father-to-be in need of quick cash to support his pregnant girlfriend.
Their reckless adventures on a booze-fueled night six months ago landed them front and center in a crowded courtroom this week on this tiny Dutch island. And on Wednesday, the victims’ family and friends who packed the gallery finally got a chance to hear the slouching suspects say they were sorry for their actions.
The apologies came at the end of a two-day trial for the men accused of killing Michael and Thelma King, a middle-aged Mount Pleasant couple stabbed to death during a blood-soaked robbery at their beachfront villa in the island’s Cupecoy section.
But Meyshane Kemar Johnson, 29, the man of accused of slitting the couples’ throats, continued to insist that he has no recollection of Sept. 19, the night the Kings were killed.
His amnesia set in only after he gave a series of detailed statements outlining how the crime went down, words prosecutors have used to try to help seal his conviction.
Johnson, who faces a possible life prison sentence, gave a slight smirk as he said in his high, tinny voice that he also hopes he can return to society at some point.
“Realistically, I can’t see myself doing a lifetime in jail for something I can’t even remember,” he said.
He and his co-defendants will learn their fate May 8, when Judge Tamara Tijhuis said she will render a verdict and impose sentencing. The trial, conducted under Dutch law, did not have a jury.
Johnson and his co-defendants, Jeremiah Chevon Mills, 18, and Jamal Jefferson Woolford, 21, are accused of entering the Kings’ home to rob them after committing a 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.
Mills told authorities they got away with a stack of $100 bills and a brick of cocaine from a safe the Kings had, but prosecutors have said the drug claims are ludicrous. No traces of cocaine were found in the safe, authorities said.
What is missing is about $70,000 worth of jewelry Thelma King is believed to have kept in the safe, said Todd King, Michael’s brother. In all, the heist likely netted the trio about $80,000 in cash and goods, he said.
Mills told the family he was sorry for what happened and he would have stepped in to intervene if he had known that Johnson intended to harm the couple.
“It was not my intention,” Mills said. “I never planned for anybody to get killed.”
Woolford expressed similar sentiments and said he hopes someday to return to society and better himself.
Prosecutors have recommended 24 years in prison for Woolford and 28 years for Mills, each of whom is believed to have played a lesser role in the actual killings.
Much of Wednesday’s proceedings involved defense attorneys offering their take on the events and urging the judge to impose more lenient sentences. They did so in lengthy and often repetitious recitations of facts and Dutch law that drove home their points again and again.
Over two days, Johnson has been described as a Jamaican who is in the country illegally but has no prior criminal record. He has three children back home and a history of bizarre episodes, including a period in which he claimed to be communicating with an oversized frog that stood on its hind legs.
Mills is a hard-luck kid from a broken family. His father, from Grenada, abandoned him at 7 months; his mother, a Jamaican, sent him away when he was 5. He has a criminal record of theft and extortion and a problem with liquor and marijuana. His mother told a psychologist that her son isn’t right in the head and might be beset by evil spirits, prosecutor Dounia Benammar said.
Woolford, by all accounts, had a normal upbringing and was known as a quiet and courteous kid. But the charter-boat crew member had run low on cash of late and needed to support a baby due in May. He reportedly also needed to tend to his drug and alcohol dependencies.
Psychological tests determined that all three had some quirks and issues, but all were fully capable of standing trial and being held accountable for their actions, prosecutors said.
Brenda Brooks, Johnson’s attorney, argued that the Kings’ deaths were “a split-second decision no one can explain,” and that the facts were more consistent with manslaughter than murder charges. She argued that a life sentence was too much and went against the grain of Dutch law, which holds to the concept that a “ray of hope” should remain.
“You don’t lock up people for the rest of their lives without an opportunity to change and get back in,” she said.
Brooks also alleged that police brutality during Johnson’s Sept. 23 arrest should be taken into the account by the judge, and she insisted that procedural errors by prosecutors in regard to a court summons for her client could provide a fatal error on appeal.
Benammar countered that Johnson brought on his injuries by struggling with police as they tried to wrest him from a confined space, injuring an officer in the process. She acknowledged some procedural errors in the summons process, but said the court already had addressed and rectified the issue.
Benammar said the seriousness of the crimes justify life in prison for Johnson.
Mills’ and Woolford’s attorneys acknowledged some criminal acts by their clients, but tried to distance the two men from the actual killings. Both suspects maintained in court that they did not conspire to kill the Kings and they were outside the home when the stabbings occurred. Their attorneys argued that the men should not be held criminally accountable for the deaths just because they went to the house to rob the Kings.
Woolford’s lawyer, Safira Ibrahim, said her client even tried to warn Johnson off when he saw the suspect moving toward Michael King’s neck with a shiny object.
“This is not the behavior of a cold-blooded murderer,” she said.
Prosecutors said Mills’ and Woolford’s initial statements to police and other evidence suggests they were active participants in the episode, were present for Michael King’s stabbing and could have intervened to save his wife.
The King family left the hearing emotionally exhausted but confident in the performance of police and prosecutors. Todd King said he thought Benammar and fellow prosecutor Georges van den Eshof did solid work and handled the trial well.
Michael King’s mother, Sally Ripkey, said she is placing her faith in God that justice will done.
“I’m not in charge of this,” she said. “God will take care of (Johnson) either in this life or the next.”