A Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives special agent facing controversial murder charges in the Virgin Islands will face a new judge when his trial starts Monday, the Associated Press reported.
Virgin Islands Superior Court Judge Brenda Hollar recused herself from the case against William G. Clark, who shot and killed a neighbor in the U.S. Caribbean territory. Judge Edgar Ross will now handle the case.
Lawyers for Clark, who says the killing was in self-defense, filed court documents earlier this month asking for a new judge. The lawyers claimed that a member of the ATF agent’s legal team was unable to listen in on a 30-minute conversation between Hollar and a prosecutor handling the case, according to the AP.
Mark E. Schamel, a partner at the law firm of Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge & Rice PLLC in D.C., and former Virgin Islands Attorney General Kerry Drue are representing Clark.
They have argued that the ATF agent was improperly charged in territorial court. Clark’s lawyers also argued that charges should be filed in federal court because the ATF agent was acting within his capacity as a federal law enforcement official at the time of the shooting. The Supremacy Clause of the Constitution requires state court judges to uphold federal laws even if they conflict with the state laws.
Hollar ruled in March that the Supremacy Clause does not apply to the Virgin Islands. Chief Judge Curtis Gomez of the U.S. District Court of the Virgin Islands also ruled against Clark, saying there was not enough evidence to suggest the ATF agent was acting as a federal law enforcement official at the time of the shooting.
The Clark legal team asked the judges to reconsider their positions. But the judges did not change their rulings.
The ATF agent’s lawyers earlier this month lost their appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, allowing the trial to proceed in territorial court.
The case against Clark has sparked outrage from members of Congress and the federal law enforcement community.
ATF Deputy Director Kenneth Melson, who has led the agency since April 2009, made a brief appearance before the start of a rally in D.C. in support of an ATF special agent. Melson has told ATF agents that he is “taking all possible actions to support Will.”
The agency has cleared Clark of wrongdoing after an internal inquiry into the 2008 shooting of Marcus Sukow. Clark shot Sukow during a domestic dispute between the man and his girlfriend. (Read our four-part series on the case here.)
Clark on Friday attended a pretrial hearing in the Virgin Islands on his case, according to the AP. The trial is slated to include testimony from high-ranking officials in the territory, including Gov. John P. deJongh.
Attorney General Vincent Frazer said the Clark prosecution is fair.
“No one is above the law,” Frazer told the AP. “The decision to proceed with the prosecution of William Clark was a legal decision based on the facts and a thorough investigation.”