By Susanna Henighan
TORTOLA, BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS– A New York man who was convicted of murder on this picturesque island has been given one ray of hope from London’s Privy Council. William Labrador, 38, facing a life sentence, will have the chance to plead for freedom later this year, when the final court of appeal for this British Caribbean territory hears his case.
The appeal will be closely watched by at least one Albemarle resident: Michael Spicer. Along with his friend, Evan George, Spicer was initially charged in the death of Lois McMillen alongside Labrador and a fourth vacationer-turned-prisoner, New Yorker Alexander Benedetto.
The Privy Council ruling came May 28 after lawyers for Labrador appeared asking for a chance to argue their case. The court said it would also hear an appeal filed by Benedetto, Labrador’s childhood friend. Benedetto is fighting an order to return to the British Virgin Islands and stand trial in the killing of McMillen, a Connecticut artist.
What does it mean that the court will hear the appeals? Just like everything else surrounding this case, it depends who you talk to.
Lawyers close to the men hailed the Privy Council’s decision as a victory, while prosecutors called the hearing routine. And in a sign that neither side is taking anything for granted, all declined to speak on the record.
No date has been set for the appeal, but lawyers hope it will take place later this year.
“I expect William to be walking out of jail in the fall,” says Spicer. “The Privy Council is there to correct errors made in outlying jurisdictions.”
The case presents a tangled legal web.
McMillen, 34, was murdered on January 14, 2000, after spending a few hours at a bar listening to blues music. She left in her rented Jeep but did not get very far. Her belongings were found scattered along a rocky shoreline road less than a mile from the bar. The autopsy showed she had been beaten and drowned. She had not been robbed or sexually assaulted.
When police started investigating the crime Saturday morning– after a passer-by spotted McMillen’s body in the surf– they soon discovered her rental vehicle parked neatly by the bar where she had been. It had been thoroughly cleaned with Windex.
Prosecutors theorize that McMillen’s murderer– whom they contend to be Labrador– was hiding in the back seat of the Jeep when she left the bar.
It is not exactly clear what role prosecutors think Benedetto played. He claims that at the time of the murder he was at a popular nightspot.
Of the four men originally charged, only Evan George, 24, can really put the case behind him. George was set free in May 2001, after the trial judge ruled that prosecutors had insufficient evidence against him.
Spicer is not so lucky. While the 38-year-old Albemarle resident was set free along with George and Benedetto during the 2001 trial, he still faces a charge of conspiracy to "pervert" the course of justice.
The charge against Spicer, a law school graduate and local bon vivant, springs from an allegation that he and Benedetto conspired to buy a taxi driver's silence by paying him to leave the island. Spicer denies the allegation.
And if the Privy Council judges Labrador not guilty, Spicer expects his own conspiracy charges to be dropped.
Susanna Henighan reports for The Hook from Tortola.