Last minute changes to indictment push back robbery homicide trial | THE DAILY HERALD

PHILIPSBURG–S.E.O.C. (30) and M.K.A. (33) were to be tried in the Court of First Instance on Thursday, but recent changes to their indictments prompted the judge to postpone their day in court to February 14, 2024.

  Both defendants are accused of being part of a group of at least four men who robbed Maho’s Island Treasure Jewelers at gunpoint on the night of January 16 this year.

  The robbers stormed into the jewellery store around 8:00pm that day, smashed the display cases to snatch the loot and escaped in a vehicle in the direction of the Lowlands.

  Police arrested C. about two months after the robbery and at his proforma hearing in June, the only charges on the indictment were one count of armed robbery and one count of gun possession.

  C.’s lawyer Shaira Bommel told the court on Thursday that she was surprised to see that the prosecutor had added five more charges to the indictment on September 29, just 13 days before her client was due to stand trial.

  The five additional charges were one count of attempted manslaughter, two counts of kidnapping, one count of assault and one count of gun possession. These stemmed from incidents March 1-4.

  In the case of co-defendant A., these seven charges were included in his indictment at a proforma hearing in July. However, the prosecutor added a substitute charge of fencing to A.’s indictment on Wednesday, only one day before the scheduled trial. This was based on the testimony of a witness who was heard on Tuesday, October 10.   

  Also on Wednesday, the prosecutor added another attempted manslaughter charge for both defendants, bringing the total number of charges to eight. The prosecutor said it had been decided to split the original count of attempted manslaughter into two counts, because two persons had been shot at on March 1, therefore justifying the additional charge.

  Both Bommel and C.’s lawyer Brenda Brooks argued that they had insufficient time to prepare an adequate defence because of these “last minute” changes. In particular, Bommel said she was unable to make investigative requests based on the new charges and that this is “contrary to proper criminal procedure.”

  The prosecutor argued that the law allows the prosecution to amend or expand existing charges, and requested that the judge dismiss the defence lawyers’ concerns.

  In C.’s case, the prosecutor contended that Bommel already had known that charges were going to be added. He also questioned why Bommel had not already made investigative requests.

  As for A., the prosecutor argued that fencing is in the same category of crime as robbery and theft, and therefore Brooks should already be prepared to defend her client against this charge.   

  The judge found in favour of the defence.

  Although the law does allow prosecutors to amend indictments, he ruled that the six additional charges to C.’s indictment were “too extensive”, mainly because they concerned allegations of a different nature to the original indictment.

  He also found that the addition of a substitute charge to A.’s indictment a day before the trial did not allow Brooks enough time to change her defence strategy if she wanted to.

  After deliberating with the prosecutor and defence lawyers about their availability, the judge postponed the trial to February 14, 2024. He also gave both lawyers three weeks to submit requests for additional investigation.

  With the trial pushed back for four months, Bommel and Brooks then requested that their respective clients be freed pending their day in court. The prosecutor moved to block these requests, arguing that the suspicions against the defendants were too serious.

  The judge agreed with the prosecutor, ruling that there are enough indications to support the defendants remaining in pre-trial detention at the Point Blanche prison.

    “I understand your frustration,” the judge said to C. and A. “This criminal procedure should have been done better and faster, but this is not a reason to release you.”

Source: The Daily Herald