After a day and a half of deliberations, a jury on Tuesday convicted Steve Tyson of the murders of Shaheel Joseph and Liz Marie Perez Chapparro at Coki Point on July 12, 2010.
Tyson, 22, whose trial began on April 14 in Superior Court in St. Thomas, looked dazed as Judge Michael Dunston read out the guilty verdicts one by one.
In addition to the murders of Joseph and Chapparro, Tyson was also found guilty of five other counts, including one count of first-degree assault, one count of reckless endangerment in the first degree, and three counts of unauthorized use of an unlicensed firearm.
The convictions all stem from a shootout that took place during the funeral of Joseph Ferrari, 23, at Coki Point. The prosecution argued that Tyson opened fire on Joseph, 18, as he was leaving the funeral, which precipitated a gunfight in which Chapparro, 15, was caught in the crossfire. Chaparro, a tourist from Puerto Rico, was visting St. Thomas for the day with her family when she was killed.
Police believe the shooting was gang-related. At least three other suspects are believed to have been involved, but so far only Tyson has been arrested and convicted.
Though the bullet that killed Chapparro, a .38 caliber, did not come from the 9mm gun that Tyson allegedly used in the shootout, he was still charged with her murder because he fired first and caused the ensuing gunfight in which she died.
During the trial the prosecution called several eyewitnesses who said they saw a man firing a gun from inside a red car. On the stand Tyson admitted being at the scene in his red Honda, but denied owning or firing a gun and claimed to have no dispute with Joseph.
The prosecution also cited forensic evidence from gunshot residue expert Alfred Schwoeble and ballistics expert Maurice Cooper, who testified that they found gunshot residue in Tyson’s car, and shell casings at the scene that matched those of another shooting Tyson was involved in two weeks earlier.
The defense countered with its own expert, a crime scene reconstruction specialist, who said that Tyson could not have fired the gun from inside his car based on the fact that the spent shell casings were recovered in the street. The prosecution punched holes in this theory by claiming that if Tyson had used a nontraditional sideways "gangster" grip, the shell casings may well have ended up in the street, not the car.
A phone call and text messages that Tyson exchanged with Frederico Perez, a V.I. Lottery enforcement agent, were also used against him during the trial.
During the phone call, which took place the evening after the shooting, Tyson told Perez "I [screwed] up." In one part of the text message exchange Perez wrote "stick to ur story dat dey fired on u first," and in another part Tyson wrote, "They goin want the gun."
Defense attorney Leonard Francis got Perez to admit that he had never seen Tyson with a gun when they worked together, or ever known him to carry a gun. No gun was ever recovered from the scene, or elsewhere.
In a statement to the press, Attorney General Vincent F. Frazer thanked the citizens who served as jurors in this case and expressed his satisfaction at having secured the conviction.
“We are grateful to the members of the jury who gave of their time and attention to listen carefully to, and weigh the evidence presented by prosecutors in this case to ensure that justice was served,” said Frazer. “We are pleased that we were able to bring at least one of the perpetrators of this crime to justice."
Assistant Attorneys General Michael Motylinski, Edward Veronda, Claude Walker and defense attorney Leonard Francis all declined to comment on the verdict.
Tyson faces life in prison without the possibility of parole for the first-degree murder conviction. Sentencing is set for June 21, 2011.
He is currently serving a 15-year sentence for third-degree assault with a firearm in relation to a shooting that took place at a home in Estate Frydendal on June 30, 2010.