PHILIPSBURG–Four days after the Appellate Court ordered the immediate incarceration of Dante Ottley (27) and Stevevanus Richardson (23), they are fugitives. On Thursday, the two responsible for the 2018 El Capitan shooting of Manuel Gomez Lopez were absentia to twenty and eighteen years, respectively, for manslaughter.
During the hearing of the case on appeal, the attorney general had asked the Court to order, in the event of a conviction, that the prison sentence should take effect immediately. On Thursday at 1:45pm, the verdicts were read before the victim’s family; the suspects had not appeared.
Immediately after the verdicts, arrest warrants were issued against Ottley and Richardson, the Prosecution Service said, stressing that the case is in the hands of the police.
Geert Hatzmann, the lawyer for the family of the fatal victim, who presented a claim for compensation for, among other things, the costs of the funeral of the deceased, said that the family is very upset that the perpetrators have been able to flee. The lawyer has sent the attorney general a message on Sunday, asking: “How on earth is this possible?”
On March 11, 2020, the Court of First Instance found Ottley and Richardson had acted in self-defence when they shot and killed a man and seriously injured another during an altercation outside adult entertainment club El Capitan in Sucker Garden on December 31, 2018.
They had been detained since January 2, 2019, two days after the shooting, when they reported to the police station. There, Ottley and Richardson stated that they had been threatened with death in the parking lot of El Capitan by three men, at least one of whom was armed and wearing a hoodie. They later withdrew that statement; camera footage did not show an armed man wearing a hoodie.
The altercation had started inside the club. Ottley, who was out with Richardson that New Year’s Eve, was approached by Gomez Lopez who was at the club with his friend W. James. Ottley and Gomez Lopez got into a dispute that continued a short time later outside in the parking lot, in the presence of Richardson and James.
In its verdict, the Court of First Instance found it proven that Gomez Lopez had confronted Ottley both inside the club and in the club’s parking lot. It also found it proven that Gomez Lopez had issued death threats to Ottley, as evidenced by camera footage depicting Gomez Lopez making “shooting” hand gestures in Ottley’s and Richardson’s direction. The Court also said Gomez Lopez did not appear intimidated or frightened when the much-larger Ottley reacted emotionally to his words and gestures.
On appeal, no evidence emerging that Gomez Lopez was carrying a gun. On the basis of camera footage, it was established that Gomez Lopez ran away from Ottley and Richardson and was shot by them six times from behind, with two bullets drilling into his lower back.
At the same time James ran away, he literally ran for his life while he was shot at nine times. He survived the attack thanks to the bulletproof vest he was wearing. The gunshot wounds he sustained in his arms and legs could have been fatal, according to the treating surgeon at the hospital.
Since January 2, 2019, the day they reported to the office, Ottley and Richardson were arrested awaiting the results of the criminal investigation. The judge in the Court of First Instance acquitted them of manslaughter but dictated both to 21 months in prison with six months deduction of pre-trial detention for possession of weapons. When the judge ruled, they had almost concluded their sentence.
After almost two years of freedom, Ottley and Richardson had to answer again for what had happened on the last night of the year 2018. On appeal, they insisted that they had acted for fear of an attempt on their lives.
On Thursday, the two seats for the suspects in the Philipsburg Mutual Improvement Association (PMIA) Hall on Back Street remained empty. At the back of the room, the victim’s mother, sister and other family members listened to an interpreter, who simultaneously translated the verdict into Spanish.
From the verdict it emerged that the Court concluded that Ottley and Richardson were to be regarded as aggressors. The 28-year-old Gomez Lopez was first pushed and then beaten twice. He then ran away and was shot at from behind.