TSXM – GREAT BAY – The Court in First Instance adjourned the trial of Shanieska Alisia B. and Eric Jonathan J. to October 23. The two 17-year-old suspects in the fatal stabbing of Kimberly Illidge on March 23 will remain in pre-trial custody until the trial – though there is a real possibility that the court will grant Eric J. a suspension of his detention at the beginning of the new school year.
The diminutive Shanieska B., who is suspected of stabbing Illidge in Middle region, was the first one to appear in court yesterday afternoon. Prosecutor Karola van Nie announced that she would request an adjournment because the report from the Dutch Forensic Institute NFI is not available yet and that she is also awaiting a report from a youth psychiatrist about the defendant.
Attorney Shaira Bommel asked the court to terminate or suspend her client’s pre-trial detention. “The detention situation at the police station is unacceptable for a minor,” she said.
Two cells at the police station have been designated as youth detention facilities at the police station by the Justice Minister. According to Bommel her client does not get her day-program, because sometimes teachers are not available. “On June 23 three detainees escaped and from the day after that there is no opportunity to air anymore. My client is entitled to airing twice a day for an hour, but the police say they have no choice.”
Attorney Bommel said that het teenaged client is detained among adults and that there is constant contact, also with adult detained men. “She has to be kept strictly separated from adults. This is unlawful and this situation has to be terminated. There are other options available, like house arrest.”
Prosecutor Van Nie referred to a ruling by the Common Court of Justice that states that the detention situation is acceptable. “It also states that the day program must be offered as much as possible,” she said. “It is annoying that I hear only in court that something is not right with that program. If I am informed about it earlier I am able to do something about it. But we are talking about a serious crime here. A girl was stabbed to death. We have to look beyond the interests of the suspect. The interest of the society carries more weight than the interest of this suspect who is a minor. But I am always prepared to look at what can be done about her situation.”
Judge Tamara Tijhuis withdrew to her chambers to think about her decision. “I have thought about this for a long time,” she said when she returned to the courtroom. “This is about the principle. The problem is the way St. Maarten deals with young inmates. It is easy to say that the country has the obligation to take good care of people, also when they are suspected of serious crimes. The Common Court of Justice has recently ruled that the detention situation is not unlawful. It is acceptable, though it could always be better, nobody doubts that.”
Judge Tijhuis followed the position of the Common Court that the situation is acceptable for the defendant. At the same time, she indicated that the country St. Maarten and the House of Detention have to make sure that the defendant gets what she is entitled to: a day program and airing time.
The judge rejected the request to terminate the pre-trial detention but she also overruled the term “as much as possible” from the Common Court’s ruling about the day program. “That has to be followed,” she said and, addressing attorney Bommel: “You have to sound the alarm the moment this is not so. Then we can discuss whether there have to be consequences.”
Co-defendant Eric J., who allegedly provided Shanieska B. with the knife she used to stab Kimberly Illidge, has a better chance to obtain a get-out-of-jail card.
“October 23 is far away,” his attorney Geert Hatzmann observed. “He is a very young suspect and nobody had expected that Eric would get involved in something like this. He was doing well in school. It is sad to see that he is now detained at the police station and that nothing cokes of his education. Is that justified? He must get the opportunity to pick up his life again.”
Like attorney Bommel before him, attorney Hatzmann told the court that the day program for his client at the police station is not functioning. “You cannot call this decent youth detention. It is incomprehensible. No matter how serious the charges are, my client should not become the victim of this. There are contacts between minors and adults in the cells. This situation is no longer acceptable.”
Prosecutor Van Nie objected to Mr. Hatzmann’s request to terminate his client’s pre-trial detention, but she admitted that he had a different role in the crime. “He is not the one that stabbed the girl. Possibly a suspension of his detention at a later moment is reasonable.”
The prosecutor said that she would want to formulate specific special conditions for a suspension of Eric J.’s pre-trial detention. “One of the moments this could happen is the start of the new school year. He does not have to wait until October 23.”
Attorney Hatzmann wondered why the suspension could not happen immediately if it is imminent anyway.
Judge Tijhuis maintained that there are sufficient serious objections to the suspect’s release. She referred to the Common Court ruling about the detention situation: “It is not unjust and I do not see circumstances that give me reason to rule otherwise.” The judge therefore rejected the bid for an immediate suspension, meaning that Eric J. will remain detained for the time being, pending a psychological evaluation and the formulation of conditions linked to a future suspension.
“A suspension comes into the picture when your personal interest carries more weight,” the judge added. “That will be the case when it is about your studies. In that case the balance will sway your way.”