Are Oran Jones and Craig Stoddard guilty of playing a part in robbing the National Bank of the Virgin Islands, shooting two customers and escaping with $56,000, or are they innocent? Jurors will decide today.
The High Court trial of the two men, presided over by Justice Rita Joseph-Olivetti, was scheduled to end yesterday. As of the Beacon’s print deadline, defence attorneys and prosecutors were scheduled to make their closing arguments.
The men were accused of conspiring with “persons unknown” in the Aug. 15, 2007 robbery, prosecutors said.
A third man, Ricky Powell, was initially jointly charged with them, but he played no part in the trial.
According to Crown Counsel Valston Graham, Mr. Jones was one of three gunmen who robbed the bank and escaped in a green Suzuki soft-top jeep.
Mr. Stoddard allegedly helped the robbers by facilitating the use of the jeep and assisting after the robbery, Mr. Graham said. Mr. Stoddard told police that he had rented the Suzuki but had left his keys inside, and said it was stolen by someone else.
The defence’s lone witness, Chad George, supported that statement. He said he was a friend of Mr. Stoddard and would frequently borrow the rental cars Mr. Stoddard drove. Mr. George said he’d warned his friend about his habit of leaving the keys in the ignition.
“On numerous occasions I told him that practice wasn’t good. And I even told him that one of these days I would move the vehicle from where he’d parked it so he’d think that somebody stole it,” Mr. George said.
Both Messrs. Jones and Stoddard declined to take the stand in their defence.
The prosecution rested its case Tuesday afternoon after jurors heard testimony from several police officers and witnesses, including Education and Culture Minister Andrew Fahie. Mr. Fahie, who took the stand last Thursday morning, said that when he was in the bank the morning of the robbery, he saw two gunmen — a tall one and a short “athletic” one who “jumped the counter in one leap.” During the robbery, the bank’s security guard ran upstairs, leaving Mr. Fahie exposed, he said.
“At that time the tall guy said, ‘nobody move,’ and he said, ‘hands up, nobody move.’ So my hands went up,” Mr. Fahie said. “He point the gun towards me, towards my chest area, and he was saying, ‘don’t move.’ I don’t know what happened. I think somebody in the back of the line, they fainted or something.”
Mr. Fahie said he heard the shots go off and felt a “warm sensation” in his left foot.
“After they left, I got up and sit down and I realised that this lady — Petra Benjamin — was bleeding. She was shot. Up to then I didn’t know that I was shot,” Mr. Fahie said.
Customers crowded around him. He called his wife. A man tied a necktie around the spot on Mr. Fahie’s ankle where the bullet had penetrated his size-13 shoe.
He was soon placed in a stretcher and rushed to Peebles Hospital, where he stayed for a day and a half. Doctors performed surgery to remove the bullet, but weren’t able to remove it fully.
“Depending on what I do, it still hurts ’cause some of the finer parts are still there,” he said.
After his testimony, jurors heard from police inspector Calvin James. Mr. James said that after the robbery, police mounted an island-wide search for the green Suzuki jeep involved. They had no luck until about 3 p.m., when they received information that the vehicle was parked in the yard of a home in Sea Cows Bay.
Upon arrival, Mr. James and another detective saw the green Suzuki and Messrs. Jones and Stoddard. Mr. Jones ran to the back of the house and was chased by another officer, Mr. James said.
The inspector said both men were told police were investigating a bank robbery and questioned.
Mr. Stoddard denied that he was involved, Mr. James said.
“‘I come here to this location because I understand that the jeep I rented was here,’” the defendant said, according to the inspector.
Mr. Jones also denied he robbed the bank, Mr. James said.
“‘I don’t know nothin’ about any robbery. I come here with a partner,’” he said, and pointed to Mr. Stoddard, according to Mr. James.
When arrested, the defendants were asked to make statements under caution, Mr. James said.
“Accused Jones said, ‘James, you charging an innocent man.’ Accused Stoddard didn’t make any reply,” Mr. James said.
Marie-Lou Creque, Mr. Jones’ attorney, challenged the inspector’s assertion that her client ran from police, and suggested he was going “out back to urinate.” She also asked the inspector what evidence linked her client to the crime.
“Was there any forensic evidence against Mr. Jones in the bank? Inside or outside the bank?” she asked Mr. James.
“No, My Lady,” he replied.
Mr. Stoddard’s attorney, Anthony Johnson, also cross-examined Mr. James, questioning the witness’ memory.
“Do you have a notebook? A legal pad? Didn’t you make some notes? Tell us from your own memory the response that Mr. Stoddard gave after you cautioned him,” the lawyer said.
Mr. James replied, “He said he came there [to Sea Cows Bay]. He saw that the tyre was flat. He went to Purcell Estate to get a spare.”