Trial starts in Caribbean killing of US couple

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Associated Press

Posted on April 9, 2013 at 5:06 PM

Updated Tuesday, Apr 9 at 9:37 PM

PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten (AP) — A Jamaican security guard accused in the stabbing deaths of an American couple at their Caribbean vacation home repeatedly rebuffed a judge's questions on Tuesday at the start of his murder trial in St. Maarten.

Meyshane Johnson, a Jamaican living in St. Maarten, repeatedly answered "I don't remember" as he was questioned by the judge. He is one of three men on trial in the Dutch Caribbean country for the September 2012 killing of Michael and Thelma King of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.

Authorities suspect Johnson was the main assailant and that the crime occurred during a robbery of the Kings' beachfront condominium. Prosecutors called for Judge Tamara Tijhuis to convict Johnson to a life sentence, the maximum penalty. His defense lawyer has said he denies killing the couple.

The two other defendants, Jeremiah Mills and Jamal Woolford, admitted to the judge that they robbed the home but said they left before anyone was killed. Prosecutors called for Mills to be sentenced to 28 years and Woolford to 24 years.

Under the Dutch legal system, the judge, prosecutors and defense lawyers question suspects before the judge renders a verdict. There is no jury and all three suspects were being tried at the same time.

On Tuesday, Mills told the judge that the trio targeted the Kings' home for robbery after holding up a restaurant and getting into a confrontation with police.

The judge said police reports allege that the three broke into the Kings' home after climbing onto the balcony. Michael King was asleep on the couch in front of their television. The suspects woke him up and demanded money.

According to police accounts referenced by the judge on Tuesday, King said there was a safe in a closet upstairs. Johnson allegedly held him in a chokehold with a knife to his throat while the other two suspects went to the bedroom, waking up Thelma King. They demanded that she open the safe and they were given two stacks of money.

Police alleged that Johnson told them during questioning that he stabbed the American couple. But on Tuesday, he repeatedly said he couldn't remember what happened. The judge said autopsy reports showed that the Kings had their throats slashed and sustained other wounds. Thelma King was found blindfolded, gagged and tied to a chair.

Authorities allege that the three suspects went to a strip club after the slayings. The car they were driving in was later found abandoned and detectives found one of the Kings' credit cards and a phone inside.

The trial continues on Wednesday. The judge is expected to issue a verdict on May 8.

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