Renell Lettsome on Trial: Day Three

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Lettsome Defense Recreates Testimony from Lettsome’s Missing Girlfriend Amber Taylor

Defense Attorney Pedro Williams read “testimony” from Amber Taylor at the beginning of the third day of Renell Lettsome’s murder trial on Wednesday, August 9, in V.I. Superior Court before Judge Brenda Hollar.

Lettsome was accused of bludgeoning St. John businessman and avid sailor David Geiger to death and savagely beating his teenage son Nathan during the early morning of October 29, 2005. Prosecutors alleged Lettsome returned to the Geigers’ Estate Grunwald home and set the house on fire to conceal the crimes.

Lettsome faced 12 felony counts including first degree murder, first degree attempted murder and first degree arson. Lettsome pleaded not guilty to all charges and refused the prosecution’s plea deal.

V.I. Police Department officials initially suspected Lettsome after his girlfriend and the mother of his young son, Amber Taylor, told them Lettsome had confessed to her about the killing.

Taylor Not in Territory
Assistant Attorney General Ernest Bason, who is prosecuting the case on behalf of the government along with Kelly Evans, originally told St. John Tradewinds that Taylor would testify at Lettsome’s trial.

At the start of the trial, however, Bason said the prosecution did not subpoena Taylor for the trial.

After receiving Taylor’s affidavit — which recounts the events leading up to and immediately following the murder and attempted murder — the prosecutors paid for a hotel room for Taylor and her two children and bought the three airplane tickets to Florida.

Out of Subpoena Range
The V.I. Superior Court, unlike the federal court, only has subpoena range within 90 miles of the territory and therefore Taylor is out of subpoena range.

Since she could not be present to testify, thanks in large part to the prosecutors, Hollar allowed Williams to create “testimony” which he believed Taylor would have given, had she been available to take the stand. The testimony was based on her affidavit and conversations which Williams had with Taylor, he said.

Following two days of correcting the format of the testimony, Williams read the account on Wednesday morning after he recused the two remaining witnesses who were due to testify.

Lettsome “Would Not Pick a Flower”
“Renell is a loving and caring father,” Williams read from Taylor’s affidavit. “Renell would not go fishing or pick a flower because he did not want to hurt a living thing.”

The testimony created by Wiliams recounted how Tullius Stewart came to Geiger’s house while Taylor was house-sitting the week before Geiger was murdered. Stewart took $50,000 from a canister found in Geiger’s kitchen, according to Williams’ “testimony” by Taylor.

When Geiger returned from the U.S. mainland he confronted Taylor about the missing money and she told him she did not know anything about it, Williams continued.

Taylor tried to get the money from Stewart who first gave her $50 to “get something to eat,” and then gave her $8,000, according to Williams’ testimony. On October 28, 2005, Taylor, Lettsome and Taylor’s two children went to St. Thomas and the couple had a fight on October 29, Williams read.

Taylor Scared and Worried
As Taylor became a suspect in the murder investigation, she grew scared and worried, according to William’s testimony. Taylor talked to Lettsome who told her not to worry and the two agreed Lettsome would confess, according to Williams.

A number of other details from Taylor’s affidavit were not included in William’s presentation of what he believed Taylor would have said on the stand. In her lengthy account to VIPD officials, Taylor said Lettsome returned on October 29 to the St. Thomas hotel where she and her children stayed the night of October 28.

Taylor’s Account to VIPD
When he returned to the hotel, wearing different clothes and with a deep gash in his hand, Lettsome confessed to killing David and Nathan — whom he thought was dead when he set the house on fire with the help of Nestor Collaire and Robert Ferguson, according to Taylor’s affidavit.

On the first day of the trial, Monday, August 7, Bason called VIPD Detective Delbert Phipps and Nathan Geiger to the stand to tell the prosecution’s side of events detailed in Taylor’s affidavit.

Phipps testified at first Taylor denied any knowledge of events relating to Geiger’s murder and the beating of Nathan.

As the murder investigation continued, VIPD officers talked to Taylor a second time, when she admitted to lying the first time because she didn’t trust St. John police officers, Phipps testified.

Officials Still Weary of Taylor’s Story
This time Taylor gave a detailed account of the events relating to the murder and the missing money, but officials were still weary of some of the things she said, Phipps explained.

“I didn’t believe everything that she said,” the detective said. “Parts of her story were questionable.”

Taylor, who was “looked at differently on St. John,” was afraid for her safety and could not stay on the island, Phipps said on the stand.

Nathan took the stand next and said he didn’t have a fight with his father the evening before David was murdered, as Williams had inferred.

Williams pointed out when Nathan was questioned by VIPD officials in Puerto Rico, he said that he went to bed on October 28 at 9 p.m., but that on the stand in the trial, the teenager said that he went to bed around 11 p.m.

“I also wrote this right after I woke up from being in a coma,” Nathan said.

Citing contradicting statements which Lettsome made to USVI and BVI police officials — such as how he arrived at Geiger’s house and where he disposed of the pipe and his bloody clothes — Williams requested a judgement for acquittal.

“No way,” said Hollar.

Charges Outlined
The judge reviewed the charges which were: murder in the first degree; the use of a deadly or dangerous weapon in the commission of murder in the first degree; murder in the second degree; the use of a deadly or dangerous weapon in the commission of murder in the second degree; attempted murder in the first degree; the use of a deadly or dangerous weapon in the commission of attempted murder in the first degree; first degree assault; the use of a deadly or dangerous weapon in the commission of first degree assault; third degree assault; the use of a deadly or dangerous weapon in the commission of third degree assault; first degree arson; and the use of a deadly or dangerous weapon in the commission of first degree arson.

Hollar also included lesser charges of voluntary manslaughter — if the jury believed Lettsome was guilty but that he committed the murder in the heat of the moment — and attempted murder in the second degree.

After agreeing on the charges, the prosecution and defense attorneys presented their closing arguments.

Bason, who showed portions of the three confessions which Lettsome signed on a screen in the court room, argued Lettsome knew what he was doing when he confessed to killing Geiger.

“No Doubt” Lettsome Confessed
“There is no doubt about this,” Bason said. “He confessed to these crimes.” In addition to the confessions, Bason reminded the jury of the DNA evidence placing Lettsome at the murder scene — “a home where he has no business in.”

The prosecutor also reminded the jury of Nathan’s injuries and asked “do you think he can sleep comfortably?”

Williams argued Lettsome was innocent until proven guilty and that the government had to prove without a reasonable doubt that he committed the murder. Alleging Lettsome fabricated his confessions to protect Taylor and her children, Williams said there were no eyewitnesses who could place the suspect at the scene.

Trial Not About Sympathy
While everyone sympathizes with Nathan, the trial was not about sympathy, Williams explained.

“Convicting the wrong man because someone has to pay for what happened to Nathan Geiger and David Geiger is not justice,” the defense attorney said.

Williams couldn’t counter the DNA evidence, but instead questioned the accuracy of the samples and how they were collected.

Lettsome only took the blame to shift the focus away from Taylor, William argued, adding that the government did not prove their case without a reasonable doubt.

Prosecution Alleges “Smoke Screens”
Evans, addressing the jury for the prosecution’s rebuttal, told the jurors not be fooled by the defense’s numerous smoke screens about Taylor and unimportant details relating to the murder.

“Lettsome can’t have it both ways,” Evans said. “He can’t have witnesses say how trustworthy he is and then today want you to believe that he made his confession up. He can’t talk out of both sides of his mouth.”

The way and manner in which David Geiger was killed requires a first degree murder conviction, Evans argued.

After Hollar read lengthy instructions to the jury regarding each of the components of each count, she recessed the court until the following day, when the jury would begin deliberations.