Opening arguments: Spicer still facing "perversion" charge

A high-profile murder case with local ties finally made its way to London's Downing Street on Monday, February 24.

Behind the tall metal gates protecting Prime Minister Tony Blair's home in downtown London, a group of wigged lawyers and titled judges examined the intricacies of a 2000 murder on the Caribbean island of Tortola.

Lawyers for William Labrador, a 39-year-old New Yorker convicted of murder, are trying to win his freedom– or at least a new trial.

The case has generated a lot of interest in the United States. Blonde and beautiful Lois McMillen, a 34-year-old artist from Connecticut, was violently drowned on a rocky shoreline in Tortola in January 2000.

A few hours after her body was discovered, island police arrested four Americans, including a Central Virginian, and charged them with her killing.

Although three of them were eventually acquitted and discharged, Labrador was convicted on the evidence of a Texas conman, Jeffrey Plante, who said that Labrador confessed to the killing while the men shared a jail cell.

Charlottesvillian Michael Spicer, 39, a friend of Labrador's and one of the four men charged with McMillen's death, has been keeping close tabs on the case. He knows very well what it's like to be imprisoned on Tortola. He himself spent 16 months there before a judge ruled there was not enough evidence to proceed.

Spicer and others in the defense camp heralded a recent Privy Council ruling in a similar case, in which the court quashed a conviction from Jamaica on the grounds that the judge failed to adequately warn the jury about the danger of accepting a jailhouse confession.

The ruling was "right on the point," Spicer says.

Monday, February 24, was the first of three days of legal arguments in the case. The five-member Privy Council is the final court of appeal for the British Virgin Islands, a British Caribbean territory.

Labrador's lawyer, Edward Fitzgerald, spent most of the day discrediting Plante and pointing out that the judge had failed to warn the jury about the danger of accepting his statements.

"The heart of the case is the evidence of Plante," Fitzgerald told the judges, who are also members of the British House of Lords. "His motive to lie was enormous."

Fitzgerald said that Plante– currently in prison in Texas could have been motivated to lie in order to win favor for himself in the eyes of both Texas and British Virgin Islands authorities.

Spicer's own freedom is still at stake depending on the outcome of the appeal. Authorities in the British Virgin Islands have refused to drop charges that he "perverted" the course of justice. They say Spicer and another man, Alexander Benedetto, tried to prevent their taxi driver from giving a statement to police on the night of the murder.

Until that appeal is settled, Spicer remains a wanted man in the Islands.

"The Queen has charged me with perversion/obstruction of justice," Spicer told The Hook before Monday's hearing. "The crown has said they don't want to take up that matter until the Labrador appeal is settled."

Susanna Henighan edits BVI StandPoint, a weekly newspaper in Tortola, and writes regularly for the Associated Press.

Read more on: Michael Spicer