Federal agent faces contentious USVI murder trial

AP News
Posted: Oct 23, 2010 3:48 PM
Federal agent faces contentious USVI murder trial

U.S. federal agent William Clark came to the Virgin Islands to fight crime in 2008, but he ended up charged with murder in a case pitting mainland law enforcers against their counterparts in the Caribbean territory.

No one disputes that on the morning of Sept. 7 that year, Clark intervened in a couple's drunken fight outside his apartment and shot a man to death.

Clark's supporters, including members of Congress, call it self-defense, contending the victim was trying to hit the agent with a heavy flashlight. They suggest the prosecution of the agent from Rochester, New York, is revenge for the U.S. government's corruption investigations targeting island officials.

Critics of the prosecution note that the officers who arrested Clark were later found guilty in an unrelated extortion and bribery case.

The trial, set to begin Monday and feature high-profile witnesses such as the territory's governor, has led to demonstrations in the U.S. and threats to boycott trips to islands popular with honeymooners.

Whatever the outcome, the trial is expected to further strain relations between local police and federal agencies that remain in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which saw a record number of killings last year and a spike in violent crime.

Clark works for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the agency withdrew its agents shortly after the shooting. He returned to the Virgin Islands for the trial and appeared at a hearing Friday.

Prosecutors have declined requests for comment, but territorial Attorney General Vincent Frazer issued a statement to denounce what he called claims of unfair prosecution.

"No one is above the law," he said. "The decision to proceed with the prosecution of William Clark was a legal decision based on the facts and a thorough investigation."

He said Clark had no authority to enforce local laws, including those covering domestic violence.

Dwane Callwood, a court deputy marshal, said islanders are not resentful of the presence of federal agents, but rather of how they apparently protected Clark, especially under the watch of a police chief who also was an ATF agent.

"From the very beginning, there's been this perception that he was being treated differently because he was a federal agent," Callwood said, adding that he was not speaking as a government employee.

Judging by letters to newspapers and interviews with islanders, many people also are angry over the U.S. Justice Department's order last year making changes within the Virgin Islands police department after complaints of excessive use of force.

A local newspaper, the St. Thomas Source, reported that it obtained a letter written last year to the Virgin Islands attorney general in which U.S. Attorney Paul Murphy said he had talked with federal agents and a local police officer about Clark's case.

"They believe the prosecution of Agent Clark is 'payback' for an earlier ATF prosecution of a VIPD officer," Murphy is quoted as writing.

Clark, 35, who is now working as an agent in upstate New York, joined the ATF in 2001 and was assigned to the U.S. Virgin Islands in January 2008.

He moved into a first-floor apartment at Mahogany Run, a quiet housing complex in St. Thomas with an ocean view. Above him lived Marcus Sukow, 44, and his girlfriend, Marguerite Duncan, a couple who police say had a history of domestic violence.

According to court records:

Around 8 a.m. on Sept. 7, 2008, a Sunday, the couple left to have breakfast at a nearby Irish pub. When they returned, they began arguing and Duncan asked Clark for help.

Sukow was standing outside, naked, threatening to blow Duncan's head off with a gun he said was in the apartment. He later retrieved a large and heavy flashlight as Duncan got into Clark's car.

Some witnesses said Sukow lunged at Clark with the flashlight after hitting his car with it, while others said Sukow was standing still with his hands at his side when he was shot.

Clark shot Sukow four times in the chest and once in the back. He then gave him first aid until help arrived.

Exactly four months later, Clark was charged with second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter. He has pleaded not guilty.

Defense attorney Mark Schamel said Clark's actions were justified because he was being attacked by Sukow.

"This prosecution is motivated by things other than the facts of the case," Schamel said, declining to elaborate.

An internal ATF investigation concluded the shooting was justified, and several congressmen have called Clark a hero for intervening in a domestic dispute.

In July, U.S. Rep. Chris Lee of New York sent the U.S. Virgin Islands government a letter about the case in which he also reminded them of the federal help that has been sent to deal with disasters and rising crime in the island.

The Clark case has been delayed by several motions and changes in the prosecutorial team. On Thursday, the judge overseeing the case _ Brenda Hollar _ recused herself after defense attorneys complained of bias.

Hollar accused them of using reckless and unrelenting tactics to turn the proceeding into what she called a circus. She said the trial would not be postponed and warned that the "day of enlightening" was approaching.