The man who slit the throats of a Mount Pleasant couple during a robbery at their St. Maarten villa smirked and smiled at the victims’ relatives after receiving a life term in prison Wednesday.
During a court hearing in the island capital of Philipsburg, Judge Tamara Tijhuis handed down the sentence after finding 29-year-old Meyshane Kemar Johnson and two other men guilty in the gruesome September killings of Michael and Thelma King.
Johnson’s co-defendants, Jeremiah Chevon Mills, 18, and Jamal Jefferson Woolford, 21, received 28 years and 22 years, respectively. Testimony during the trio’s two-day trial last month indicated that Mills and Woolford played lesser roles than Johnson in the actual killings.
Todd King, brother of Michael King, said he and his relatives who attended the proceeding were relieved and impressed with the hard work of prosecutors and Tijhuis. Life was the maximum sentence available for Johnson, 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.”
Still, the defendants could appeal the verdicts and sentences, and Johnson’s attorney, Brenda Brooks, indicated Wednesday she intends to do just that. Under Dutch law, that could lead to a full retrial of the case as early as October or November, Solicitor General Taco Stein said.
“But we are confident this will also hold up in the high court,” he said. “We feel justice has been served in this case.”
Johnson, who smirked through most of the trial, showed little emotion as his sentence was imposed, and the former security guard smiled as he was led from the courtroom, several observers 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, Finley King, Michael King’s brother, 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 Today newspaper quoted the judge’s ruling as saying:
“These acts of unnecessary and excessive deadly violence have cause feelings of fear and unsafety to the direct environment of the victims but also to the whole of St. Maarten. Furthermore the murders have triggered a wave of indignity and fear for St. Maarten’s economic stability, even though this is of a different magnitude in the context of the unspeakable sorrow it has caused to the next of kin. The victims Michael and Thelma King were guests on the island, and with the murders St. Maarten has been hit in its economic heart, the tourism industry.”
Karen King Moser, Michael King’s sister, said her family was pleased by the judge’s ruling and her strong words. “She was remarkable,” she said. “It was exactly what should have been done. And it was just such a relief to hear her compassion.”
The judge mostly followed the prosecutors’ recommended sentences in the case, though she gave Woolford two years less than they had requested. That’s because she found there wasn’t sufficient evidence to prove that he was an accessory to the actual killings, Finley King said.
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. Stein acknowledged that could be a sticking point on appeal.
Johnson’s attorney, Brooks, vowed to fight for a more lenient sentence on appeal, and she challenged procedural mistakes made by prosecutors in regard to a court summons for her client.
Stein said the court already has addressed those issues, and he doesn’t expect that argument to have any traction on appeal. “I don’t think there’s much chance with that,” he said.
Johnson claimed at trial to have no recollection of Sept. 19, the night of the murders. But he and his co-defendants had earlier provided investigators with a clearer picture of what happened.
Johnson, Mills and Woolford entered the Kings’ Cupecoy villa to rob them after committing another hold-up at a Chinese restaurant earlier that 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, snapping the knife blade in King’s back.
After Mills tossed him a fresh knife, Johnson completed the killing before taking the new blade 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.
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, hugging one another and fighting back tears. “It was very intense,” he said.
Finley King 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.
Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.