Trial to begin in St. Maarten slayings
South Carolina couple killed on island in September
It is the dark side of paradise, a tale of torture and murder. And this week, it plays out in a picturesque courthouse a few yards from the sun-kissed beaches of St. Maarten.
The trial of the three men charged with killing Michael and Thelma King begins Tuesday. The defendants, who face a possible life sentence in prison if convicted, are accused of stabbing the South Carolina couple to death in a crime that has made headlines in the Caribbean and across America.
Michael's brother, Todd King, told CNN that he and his family will attend the trial. "Everybody's coming," he said while remembering the two lives that were brutally taken. "Everybody loved Michael, he was just one of the nicest guys you would ever meet," he said. "And Thelma walked on water, as far as our family was concerned. She was just like a sister."
Michael, who was 53, and Thelma, 57, loved St. Maarten, Todd said. They resided here for several months during the year and planned to invest in a local business. The Kings owned a condominium at the Ocean Club Resort in an area known as Cupecoy.
They were killed in their beachfront apartment, and their bodies were discovered on September 21. Solicitor General Taco Stein told CNN the couple was slain in a home invasion. "As far as we have been able to establish, theft is the motive," Stein said. "So it's a robbery that went out of hand into murder." The victims were repeatedly stabbed, according to local officials. Thelma King was tied to a chair, Stein said.
The suspects, who have been identified by their initials, are J.J.W, who was arrested on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands; J.C.M, who is 17; and M.K.J., 28, who Stein said confessed to his involvement in the killings.
The trial is expected to last two days, with the judge issuing a ruling in early May. "I'm confident they will be found guilty," Stein said.
Brenda Brooks, the attorney who represents J.C.M., expressed doubts about the prosecution's theory of the case.
"I don't believe it," Brooks said, "that these guys kind of went on a joyride with someone else's car, and then went out drinking and ended up coincidentally by the Kings, and it was initially said to be a robbery and they end up killing the couple.
"I think there is something else to that story. From the moment I heard it I said it doesn't add up."
The double homicide and the upcoming trial have generated widespread attention and safety concerns for the hundreds of thousands of tourists who vacation on the island each year. Stein said violent crimes like this are exceedingly rare. "Murders do take place, let's face it," he said, "but this hasn't happened before."
"The Kings were liked on the island. They came here often. The island is shocked."
The couple had many friends, both on St. Maarten and at home in South Carolina. "They were the greatest people in the world," said Terry Tamblyn, who knew the Kings for 25 years. "Michael would give you the shirt off his back," he said.
"It was a senseless killing."