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Murder Jury Deliberates For 6.5 Hours … Before Asking Judge For More Time … And Catered Lunch Tomorrow

Retired Virgin Islands Police Department (VIPD) Sgt. Ronald Hatcher.

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CHRISTIANSTED — A Superior Court trial that was held with all due haste — nearly five years after a St. Croix man was killed — will be delayed at least one day longer.

A seven-woman, five man jury took about six and a half hours deliberating before asking Superior Court Judge Jomo Meade for more time tomorrow to reach a verdict in the case of Ronald Hatcher’s second-degree murder trial.

The former Virgin Islands Police Department officer’s trial is already a week long.

If Meade believes the jury can reach a verdict tonight, he might ask it to stay later at the court. If the judge believes the jury is hopelessly deadlocked, he can rule a mistrial.

Police originally took six months to arrest the former VIPD sergeant and the VIPD’s Director of the Training Academy Hatcher.

“The honest reality, is that this trial might not occur until some time in 2019,” Hatcher said in court documents, adding that his chosen Attorney Michael Joseph would be on St. Thomas at the time of the trial.

However, the trial did go forward, with Defense Attorney Yohanna Manning instead of Joseph and despite the former police detective’s prognostications of prolonged extensions, the delay did not quite reach five full years.

St. Croix jurors heard closing statements Monday in the not-so-speedy trial of Hatcher, with the retired VIPD’s attorney calling the defendant a “good Samaritan” who tried to save another’s life.”

Manning said the trail to date looked like this: his client had heard cries of distress outside his home. He had gathered his holstered firearm and retirement badge and had gone out to assist.

Hatcher was attempting to serve his community, Manning said.

A 45-year veteran of the Virgin Islands Police Department who trained other officers, Hatcher was charged with second-degree murder, reckless endangerment and carrying or using a dangerous weapon in connection with the shooting that killed Jose Rivera Berrios on Sept. 26, 2013, on Queen Cross Street in Christiansted.

When Hatcher stepped outside that night, he encountered a man, later identified as David Abraham, running down Queen Cross Street screaming. He then saw another man chasing after him with what looked like a rifle, Hatcher testified on Friday.

That second man, reportedly high on a bad mix of cocaine and alcohol, was the 43-year old Jose Berrios.

Hatcher had wanted to maintain visual and verbal contact with Berrios and shouted for others present to call 911 for help, according to Manning. Hatcher backed Berrios toward his apartment above Pucha Bar on Queen Cross, and Berrios reportedly leaned his “rifle” against the building and went upstairs for a machete.

The bar owner called 911.

Jose Gonzales, a close neighbor, attempted to calm Berrios. He took the machete from him and maneuvered him upstairs to the balcony of his apartment.

Meanwhile, Hatcher reportedly waited for the backup that took between one and a half and three hours to arrive. Manning told the jury Monday that Hatcher left Berrios’s “rifle” in place against the wall, not wanting to disturb fingerprints or DNA evidence.

According to testimony, Berrios continued to shout and curse at Hatcher from the edge of the balcony. Someone had locked the gate to the balcony, and Berrios then attempted to climb over the balcony railing to get at Hatcher, said the defense.

That’s when Hatcher shot his gun.

“He’s got a right to defend himself,” Manning said to the jury.

A stroke survivor and cancer patient, Hatcher, 69 years old at the time, felt threatened and shot Berrios in self-defense, according to his Friday testimony.

The prosecution, however, painted a different motive.

“The defendant shot and killed Jose Berrios because Mr. Berrios dared to disrespect; he dared not to listen to the demands of the defendant,” claimed Assistant Attorney General Patricia Quinland.

Quinland argued that Hatcher intended to shoot Berrios.

“The defendant took his firearm out; he aimed his firearm at Mr. Berrios, and he shot Mr. Berrios,” Quinland told the jury Monday. “He did so because he did not like the words coming out of Mr. Berrios’ mouth, and he did not like his attitude.”

Quinland likened Hatcher’s shooting to vigilante justice, but defense lawyer Manning said, “When officers take the oath to protect and serve, that oath is engrained.”

He called Hatcher a good Samaritan.

Now 73 and frail, Hatcher walks with a cane and remains afflicted by cancer.

Hatcher is also the former director of the VIPD’s Crime Prevention Bureau on St. Croix.

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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