Labrador repriever: American acquitted of Tortola murder

ROAD TOWN, British Virgin Islands– A New York man was freed from prison Monday after a British court overturned his murder conviction and upheld the acquittal of another American in the death of a Connecticut woman.

William Labrador hugged his mother as he left prison shortly before 6pm, hours after the court ruled that he was wrongly convicted in the 2000 death of Lois McMillen, a 34-year-old artist.

"It's time to go live my life again, which, thank God, was not taken from me,'' said Labrador, 39, of Southampton, New York.

"It's like a miracle,'' Barbara Labrador said. "Finally justice. Finally. Finally!''

The judges also ruled that Alexander Benedetto, a 37-year-old publisher from New York, had been properly acquitted of murder. They set aside an order by the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal that Benedetto should be tried again on the charge.

Benedetto and Labrador were among four Americans originally charged in the slaying of McMillen, who was vacationing on the island of Tortola when she drowned in January 2000.

Labrador was convicted of murder largely on the testimony of Jeffrey Plante, a 61-year-old Texan who said Labrador confessed to the killing while the two men shared a jail cell on Tortola.

Five British Privy Council judges ruled that Plante's evidence was too unreliable to have convicted Labrador of the killing, for which he was sentenced to life.

Labrador's lawyers argued that Plante, who has a long history of fraud and theft offenses, was unreliable.

Benedetto was acquitted along with Michael Spicer, a 39-year-old law student from Charlottesville, and Evan George, 25, of Washington, D.C., in May 2001 after the trial judge ruled there was not enough evidence against them to proceed.

"This ruling reaffirms my faith in the judicial process,'' Benedetto said in a telephone interview Monday. "If the law protects the guilty, then certainly it must come to the rescue of the innocent. I hope they reopen the case so justice comes for poor Lois as well.''

The Privy Council has long been the court of last resort for several former British Caribbean islands.

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

The four men charged but now cleared at the British Virgin Islands Supreme Court in November 2001. From front: Evan George, Charlottesvillian Michael Spicer, Alexander Benedetto, and William Labrador.


NEWS SIDEBAR- Celebration: Spicer toasts friend's release (and more)

Published April 10, 2003, in issue #0214 of the Hook


Charlottesvillian Michael Spicer, who spent over a year behind bars in Tortola, got the news earlier this week. Word that a London court was freeing his friend, William Labrador, came Monday, April 7, around 8:30am with simultaneous telephone calls from his sister and from another man vindicated in the case, Alex Benedetto.

"Alex's first words to me were, 'It's over,'" Spicer told a reporter later that morning.

"It's a very decisive ruling, a very powerful ruling, and a very correct ruling," says Spicer. "The whole matter is closed."

The Privy Council ruling also seems to preclude further prosecution of Spicer on a "perversion of justice" charge based on an allegation that he and his friends somehow convinced a possible witness to leave the island.

The case drew international attention– as much for the fabulous lifestyles of the four men arrested as for the paucity of evidence. Attorneys for the men decried what they called a rush to find a scapegoat on an island dependant on tourism. Among the evidence already that had already been laughed out of court:

- sand inside the men's shoes supposedly from the beachfront crime scene (a geologist later pointed out that the sand came from various places they'd hiked)

- an alleged blood stain on Spicer's shirt (Spicer says it was barbecue sauce, and anyway it faded to invisibility while the shirt was in police custody)

Spicer says he was already planning a Monday night celebration.

"I was planning on opening a bottle of champagne tonight anyway– for the fall of Baghdad with very few American and British boys lost. If Syracuse wins tonight," says this member of that university's class of 1985, "it'll be a hat trick."

With the evening's news– the Orangemen's victory in the NCAA tournament and the possible death of Saddam Hussein– Spicer seems to have gotten his hat trick.