A St. Croix man who once complained to the Justice Department about the harsh treatment he received in prison in Virginia is back behind bars, this time in Florida. Defendant Hector Ledesma, fresh out of the Golden Grove Correctional Facility on St. Croix, was caught on a surveillance camera in Florida at the scene of a shooting in Hialeah.
Authorities with the Hialeah Police Department say the victim was shot six times in an assault allegedly committed by St. Croix resident Ralph Benjamin. Images caught on camera showed Benjamin then fled the scene and escaped in a vehicle allegedly driven by Ledesma.
Hialeah news sources say the incident took place Nov. 19. Hialeah Police Chief Sergio Velazquez said Ledesma and Benjamin were apprehended at Miami International Airport Nov. 22 after purchasing one way plane tickets to the big island.
In an interview done for a local TV station, the chief also offered a motive.
“Everything we’ve learned about this case is that it was an assassination attempt,” Velazquez said.
Investigators working on the case say shooting victim Carmen Ramirez had fallen victim to an identity theft scheme at the hands of Ledesma’s brother, who is now facing charges in Orlando.
Hialeah police said Benjamin and Ledesma shot the victim to keep her from testifying in the Orlando case.
At the time of their arrest in Miami, Benjamin had a criminal record dating back 10 years. He was charged with aggravated assault and battery in 1999. In 2001 he was charged with passing forged bills.
His first stretch in prison came after a conviction for first degree assault in 2002. After serving his sentence there was a charge of aggravated assault and battery that Justice officials decided not to prosecute.
On Aug. 29, Benjamin logged another alleged offense on his record — possession of an unlicensed firearm. According to records kept at the Virgin Islands Police Department, those charges are still pending.
Until his arrest in Florida on Nov. 22, Hector Ledesma had one charge on his criminal record. Aggravated rape of a minor in 2004. Upon conviction in Superior Court, he was sentenced to 15 years with no chance of parole.
Ledesma was returned to Golden Grove to serve out the last year of his sentence in 2018. He caught the attention of local officials when he wrote to then-Attorney General Claude Walker.
In the letter, Ledesma complained about harsh treatment he received at the hands of prison guards in Virginia.
Walker declined to intervene. In October 2018 the former Justice official said he was looking into Ledesma’s story of being thrown into solitary confinement. The investigation showed the inmate was transferred to at least five jails and prisons between Florida and Virginia after he was sent away from Golden Grove, along with other inmates to relieve overcrowding there.
The case caught the attention of American Civil Liberties Union attorney Eric Balaban. Balaban works with the National Prison Project, which is representing some Virgin Islands inmates in a years long effort to improve jail and prison conditions in the territory.
Attempts to reach police in Hialeah for further comment on the Nov. 22 arrests of Ledesma and Balaban were unsuccessful on Tuesday.