Suspect ordered held in St. Maarten slaying of Mount Pleasant couple

The suspect in the killing of Mount Pleasant residents Michael and Thelma King is led into the court house in Philipsburg. Photo provided by The Daily Herald in St. Maarten.

A judge in St. Maarten this morning approved prosecutors’ requests to detain a suspect in the slayings of a Mount Pleasant couple for at least another week while the investigation continues.

The suspect, a 28-year-old Jamaican man, was hustled into a closed hearing in a Philipsburg courthouse with a shirt draped over his head to protect his privacy because he has not been formally charged in the killings of Michael and Thelma King. The Kings were found stabbed to death Friday in their beachfront condo.

“We usually try to protect (suspects’) privacy because they are still suspects, not convicted people,” Solicitor General Taco Stein said.

The judge agreed that prosecutors had sufficient evidence to keep the suspect behind bars for another seven days, Stein said. Prosecutors would then have to renew their request to detain the man, he said.

The suspect did not address the court, and his attorney, Brenda Brooks, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Though some media outlets are reporting that a hunt is on for a second suspect, Stein said that is incorrect.

“We do have an open mind for the possibility of more than one suspect, but it is not like some of the newspapers wrote that we already have someone as a target,” he said.

Stein said he believes the Kings’ bodies have been removed from the island by relatives. The family was cleared on Tuesday to take the bodies back to the United States for burial after autopsies determined the Kings bled to death from stab wounds, authorities said.

Meanwhile, the security company that employed the suspect said he passed background checks and showed no signs of being “a doubtful one.”

In keeping with the island’s privacy rules, prosecutors have identified the man only as M.K.J. Island media outlets, however, have reported the suspect is Meyshane Kemar Johnson, an employee of Checkmate Security.

Checkmate has issued a statement expressing sympathy for the victims’ families and condemning the “barbaric act” that led to their deaths. The company stated that it checked out the suspect before hiring him and had contacted his former employers in Jamaica. They found nothing of concern, the statement said.

“There was no indication of any reason to consider this case even a ‘doubtful one,’” the company stated. “Within our company we believe that this person is an example of cases where a human being can change and commit things completely out of the ordinary.”

Johnson’s lawyer told The Daily Herald newspaper that her client denies any involvement in the killings and disputes police accounts that he resisted arrest.

“Right now I haven’t seen any documents. I haven’t even seen the first interrogation, but I understand that he is denying the involvement,” Brooks told the newspaper.

Brooks also told The Daily Herald her client claims to be the victim of police brutality.

“I understood that he was beaten by the police. I also read that the Police (Force) is saying that he resisted arrest,” the newspaper quoted her as saying. “Regarding his being beaten, the physical evidence is there. He got some stitches in his head and he said he was stomped (on) in his face and (his) left ear was swollen and he received some licks to the body as well. There are signs.”

Authorities, however, have said it was the suspect that provoked violence. In a statement released Monday, prosecutors said the suspect “heavily resisted his arrest, wounding a police officer” during a pre-dawn Sunday operation by law enforcers.

More than 100 friends and relatives of the Kings held a memorial for the couple on the island Tuesday. Funeral arrangements in the United States have not been announced.

Michael King’s friend, Allen Sinkler of Mount Pleasant, was among those who attended the memorial, The Daily Herald reported. He told the newspaper he had been friends with them for 15 years and that he and his wife often traveled with the Kings and spent Christmases together. He said he would miss his friends dearly.

Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams and St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association Executive Director Alfred Harley also attended. Some friends wore T-shirts bearing pictures of the two in happier times, which read “RIP Mike and Thelma King,” the newspaper reported.

“What a waste of two beautiful lives,” the newspaper quoted Wescot-Williams as saying.

The Kings were found Friday in their condominium at the Ocean Club Resort on St. Maarten, a 16-square-mile territory with about 50,000 inhabitants that shares a small island with the French dependency of St. Martin.

Chief Prosecutor Hans Mos said Thelma King was found tied to a chair, and Michael King was lying on the floor, partially over an overturned chair. Both were in their 50s.

The St. Martin News Network has reported that Johnson is suspected of being involved in a robbery at the Happy Star Chinese Restaurant on the island Sept. 19, supposedly the same day as the Kings were killed. Investigators reportedly recovered a car used in the holdup and several incriminating items, including credit cards and a cellphone belonging to Michael King, were found inside, the news agency stated.

The Kings were part-time residents of St. Maarten and owned a condominium in Toler’s Cove in Mount Pleasant. Their connections in South Carolina extended throughout East Cooper to Columbia.

Check back with postandcourier.com for more on this developing story.