Found Guilty of Murder Twice, Jahlil Ward Back on St. John

Jahlil Ward

After spending more than two years in jail and being found guilty twice of murder, Jahlil Ward walked out of prison and returned to St. John last week.

V.I. Superior Court Judge Brenda Hollar granted Ward’s motion for reduction of bail, allowing him released after posting 10 percent of his $100,000 bail, according to a report in the V.I. Daily News.

Ward’s third-party custodian will be Edwin Penn of Estate Adrian, and Ward will have to remain at his home under house arrest, surrender his travel documents, have no contact with witnesses and wear an electronic monitoring device as part of his release terms, according to the St. Thomas-based daily newspaper.

The prosecution, led now by V.I. Assistant Attorney General Claude Walker, filed a motion asking for Hollar to recuse herself, which the judge denied. Walker also filed a motion for the court to reconsider its order, according to the V.I. Daily News.

Hollar has heard both of Ward’s murder trials after which two separate juries found him guilty of stabbing 21-year-old Jamie Cockayne to death on a Cruz Bay street during the early morning hours of June 19, 2007.

Cockayne, from Pennsylvania, had been on St. John a few months waiting to start a job in the British Virgin Islands when he was stabbed eight times, including in the femoral artery, just after midnight on June 19.

Less than an hour before he was found bleeding on the street in front of Fashion Palace, Cockayne had been in an altercation with Ward and Anslemo Boston and Kamal Thomas in a Cruz Bay bar. Cockayne bled to death in Estate Enighed before medical help arrived.

Before last week, Ward had been in prison since his arrest on June 27, 2008, when he returned to the territory from the mainland for the St. John Festival celebration. Ward, who was nabbed at the Cyril E. King Airport, was the third suspect arrested for Cockayne’s murder. Codefendants Boston and Thomas were arrested several months earlier in 2008 and also charged with murder in the first degree.

The first trial for all three men was joined and started in October 2008. After a week of testimony, the jury found Ward guilty of murder in the first degree and Thomas and Boston guilty of third-degree assault. All three were convicted of using a dangerous weapon during the commission of crime of violence.

During sentencing for the first convictions, in July 2009, Hollar sentenced Thomas and Boston to spend 12 and half year in jail and to pay $11,500 in fines. Ward faced life in prison without the possibility for parole for the first-degree murder conviction.

Shortly after the conviction came down, however, Ward’s attorney Michael Quinn filed a motion to dismiss after he discovered a piece of evidence — a jail cell confession — which the prosecution had not shared with the defense. Daryl Mertens had spent time in a cell across from Thomas in 2008 and alleged that Thomas confessed to murdering Cockayne.

Prosecutors did not turn over Mertens’ statement to defense, which gave Hollar grounds to order a new trial for Ward. Then in September 2009, the judge threw out the assault convictions and sentences of Thomas and Boston after learning that the Cockayne family had paid several witnesses.

During the second trail for the three St. John men, Thomas and Boston’s hearing was separated from Ward’s trial. In December 2009, Ward faced his second jury alone and was convicted of second-degree murder, third-degree assault and weapons charges.

Thomas and Boston were again found guilty of third-degree assault and weapons charges after their second trial in March 2010. That time around, Thomas was also convicted of threatening and intimidating a witness.

In November 2010, Hollar sentenced Thomas and Boston to 10 years behind bars and more than $10,000 in fines. They are currently serving those sentences.

In July 2010, Hollar granted Ward’s motion for a new trial on grounds that the prosecution had prevented Mertens from traveling to the territory to testify during the December 2009 trial. Hollar has not set a new date for Ward’s third trial and might rule to dismiss the case, according to V.I. Department of Justice spokesperson Sara Lezama.

“A new date for a third trial has not been set,” said Lezama. “At this point we are just waiting for Hollar to dismiss or set a date. We’re just waiting to see.”

Walker did not immediately return calls from St. John Tradewinds requesting comment.