James Malfetti III
ST. JOHN — The lawyer for the New Jersey family of murder victim James Malfetti, III is “outraged” a Superior Court Judge is considering the release to house arrest with no bond of Mekel Blash, 27, who is charged with the January 18, 2014, first degree murder of the young internet entrepreneur.
A discovery hearing has been set in the matter for Tuesday, July 7, although no date has been set yet for an arraignment hearing at which the defendant enters a plea. No trial date is set until after an arraignment.
“We are outraged that the Judge would even ponder releasing a defendant who is charged with a first degree murder who has a prior criminal record and faces life imprisonment,” Atty. Nancy E. Lucianna wrote St. John Tradewinds. Atty. Lucianna is in the territory to attend Blash’s arraignment,
Victim Stabbed to Death
Malfetti, 41, a successful internet entrepreneur who had relocated to St. John to indulge his love for paddle boarding, was found dead of stab wounds after an apparent burglary at his apartment in a south shore residential neighborhood. Atty. Lucianna practices law in the U.S. Virgin Islands and in Fort Lee, New Jersey, Malfetti’s home state.
“Consideration of this unorthodox bail is inappropriate and endangers the public,” Atty. Lucianna wrote. “His bail as presently constituted, $500,000, is too low and releasing him on house arrest would be against the Bail Reform Act and the V.I. Code dealing with the prohibition of releasing without substantial monetary bond one charged with a first degree murder.”
“The fact that the defendant Blash has a criminal record (he was only released from prison five weeks before this crime) and is facing life imprisonment makes him a flight risk and a danger to the community,” added the New Jersey Attorney, who also is licensed to practice law in the Virgin Islands.
“This was a heinous, premeditated crime,” Atty. Lucianna continued. “Mr. Malfetti was in his home, sleeping, when the defendant allegedly broke into Mr. Malfetti’s home, robbed him, and then murdered him where he slept before absconding into the night.”
Malfetti was stabbed multiple times in the neck in an attack that occurred during what the VIPD termed a burglary of the apartment he had recently moved into and an attempted burglary of the neighboring luxury home on the property. His body was not discovered until more than a day after the attempted burglary was reported and investigated by VIPD officers.
Victim Called “Flight Risk”
“Besides the abhorrent nature of the murder, the defendant is a flight risk,” the Malfetti’s family attorney objected. “The penalty for first degree murder is life imprisonment and the defendant knows he faces this penalty.”
“That factor alone weighs very heavily against a court imposing non-monetary bail and house arrest for such a violent, premeditated crime,” Atty. Lucianna added.
The Malfetti’s attorney said Blash has ties to the British Virgin Islands that make him a flight risk and that he has a prior criminal history.
“Indeed, defendant (Blash) was out of jail a mere five weeks before allegedly committing this murder after serving a prison sentence for burglary and assault,” the attorney wrote.
Late Friday Announcement
The V.I. Police Department issued a simple four-line press release announcing the 5:30 p.m. Friday, April 17, arraignment of Mekel Blash, 27, of Nadir “who was arrested and charged with First Degree Murder, Second Degree Murder, First Degree Assault, Third Degree Assault, Use of a Dangerous Weapon during the Commission of a Crime of Violence, Grand Larceny and first Degree Burglary.”
“The arrest of Blash was made in connection to (the) January 19, 2014, homicide of Mr. James Malfetti that occurred in Chocolate Hole, St. John,” the VIPD statement continued.
“No bail was issued for Mekel Blash by order of the Honorable Judge Kathleen McKay of the Superior Court,” the VIPD April statement concluded. “Mekel Blash was processed and remanded to the Bureau of Corrections pending his Advise of Rights Hearing.”
Blash is currently being held in the St. Thomas Criminal Justice Complex on $500,000 bail. An attempt to have his bail raised to $1 million was turned down by a Superior Court Judge, according to the head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.
First degree murder is the only criminal charge for which a defendant can be held in jail, without bond, pending trial, according to V.I. statute. Prosecutors have to convince the court they have evidence and testimony to prove the defendant committed pre-meditated murder and did so with malicious intent.
When Justice officials went to court to ask for higher bail in May “it remained the same,” Criminal Division Chief Renee Gumbs-Carty said.
Family Hopes “Justice Will Prevail”
Shortly after the arrest was announced, Ro Malfetti wrote St. John Tradewinds to thank the St. John community for its support.
“We started this public journey to honor our son, determined to bring his murderers to proper Justice,” Ro Malfetti wrote. “We came to recognize that this was not just about us, and our son, but that we were part of a much bigger story.
“It was this realization that made us determined to bring greater transparency to the concerns regarding the Justice system in the territory, and to persevere in our efforts for all the families that have been pained by crime, and continue to await Justice,” Mrs. Malfetti wrote. “Our greatest hope is that Justice will begin to prevail for all victims of crime and their families.”
“Please note that we could never have reached this point without the support, love and prayers of our dear family, friends, and the engagement of the V.I. community,” she added.
“To the people of the USVI, it was your stories and your engagement that propelled us forward in our fight for Justice for Jimmy, and for ALL the victims of crime in the territory,” she concluded her brief message. “We pray this momentum can continue, and together we can be part of true and lasting change in the USVI.”