Defendant Jason Brian Coulter fled St. Thomas immediately after killing 67-year-old William Bennett at the Sapphire Beach Condominiums on St. Thomas.
The prosecutor in the case asked Superior Court Judge Kathleen Mackay to give Coulter 22 years in prison, while defense asked for between eight and 18 years; 22 years was the term agreed to as part of the plea agreement reached between the defendant and the Justice Department.
But at the sentencing hearing held Friday in Courtroom No. 4, Assistant Attorney General Eugene Connor Jr., called the defendant evil. Coulter viciously slaughtered Bennett, stabbing him 10 times, Connor said.
Evidence gathered at the time of autopsy also showed repeated blows to the victim’s head and two broken legs. And up until the time of sentencing, the prosecutor said, Coulter showed no remorse.
“And then, when he was done, the defendant bound him up and stuffed him in a trash bag. I spoke to Dr. (Francisco) Landron and he said that in order for him to accomplish this, he had to break the legs of the victim,” Connor said.
When it was all over and an attempts was made to clean up the shared rental unit, Connor said the defendant took Bennett’s credit card and went on a spending spree. He also talked someone else into using their credit card to purchase a plane ticket, allowing Coulter to flee.
Investigators said they believe the murder of William Bennett took place between Nov. 28 and Nov. 29, 2014.
Throughout his adult life, Connor said, Coulter lived by swindling others. He did it in California, he did it in Hawaii, and unfortunately, he did it in the Virgin Islands before fleeting the crime scene, heading to Florida.
Police in Florida arrested the fugitive July 5, 2015. He was extradited by members of the Virgin Islands Police Department Nov. 12, 2015.
Standing a few feet away from her father’s killer, Lauren Bennett Gibson told how her father, a retired lab technician, jumped at the chance to work temporarily at the Roy L. Schneider Hospital as a travel tech, because he had traveled to the V.I. before.
He liked the scenery and the people, she said. The father and daughter shared a house and Lauren said she was expecting her father to return home around the time she opened his mail and found two bounced checks from the bank.
To save on the cost of the trip, the victim sought a roommate over the internet to share expenses. Coulter answered the posting over the website, couchsurfer.com.
When she called William Bennett on St. Thomas, she said he told her the checks were from a roommate who had come up short on the rent and was mooching food from the apartment. The roommate was becoming a problem, her father said, and he planned to confront him about the bounced check and ask him to leave.
That, she said, was their last conversation. A message came — at first she thought, from William Bennett – telling her not to call or to text for a while. Which was strange, she said, because they spoke to each other every day.
Then came a call that increased her concern. He father had not shown up to work at the hospital. Security officials were going to conduct a wellness check of his condo apartment, Lauren said.
When they did, they discovered the body shrouded in trash bags.
“This has been a very traumatic experience. I was born on my dad’s birthday and we were extremely close. I had a wonderful father, absolutely wonderful father,” she said.
The witness’ voice began to break.
“I’ve never had such a traumatic experience in my life, and now I’m re-living this. And now I’ve found out he had to break my dad’s legs to do that. How could you do that? How could you do that? I think 22 years is not enough. I want him to wake up every day in prison, thinking about my dad. Because I wake up every day, missing my dad.”
Tears also flowed from Alecia Coulter, mother of the defendant’s toddler son who sat quietly in the courtroom. She spoke to the court as a character witness, saying Jason Brian Coulter was not the same person on the day of sentencing as he was in 2014.
But it became apparent that the victim impact statement and allocution from the prosecutor cast a harsh light on the defendant. Alecia Coulter said Jason lied to her.
She returned to her seat, sobbing.
Then the defendant addressed the court in a rambling statement. He told the victim’s daughter he was sorry for the pain he caused her but what happened, happened.
If the court would grant him a short prison term, he said, he would come out ready to be a good father to his own son.
But Mackay watched him from the bench, grimly. The judge’s speech was the shortest of all.
“Forty years, with credit for three years, 91 days for time served, and $75, payable to the court.”
With that, Superior Court marshals ushered Coulter away and Mackay left the bench.