1995Public Service

Evidence is Gone, So Is the Case

Cops Blow Chance to Send
Baby-Beater Back to Jail
Melvin Claxton
December 14, 1994,
Part 4

When federal prosecutors charged Joel Fahie with pulling off an armed robbery July 22, 1993, they had a strong case. Just hours after the robbery, they found a wallet belonging to one of the victims. It was inside a stolen car in which Fahie was riding.

But that wasn't all: One of the victims recognized Fahie, an ex-convict, and ID'd him to the police.

Kenneth Joseph, who worked as a prison guard, had been playing cards with nine other men outside Al McBean Center in Tutu when three masked men drove up and robbed them. Joseph recognized the voice behind one of the masks as Fahie's, and he notified the police as soon as the robbers sped away.

Police and prosecutors placed particular weight on Joseph's identification of Fahie because Joseph worked at the prison when Fahie was there in 1992, serving a one-year sentence for assault.

But Fahie was never convicted of robbing Joseph and the other card players.

Police blunders and mishandling of crucial evidence left prosecutors with no choice but to drop all charges against Fahie, who has a long history of violent crime.

"We had serious evidential problems with that case," says Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Via.

"Not only could important evidence not be found, but police had given evidence back prior to trial."

For example, police gave the wallet -- the only piece of evidence linking Fahie to the crime scene --to the victim instead of keeping it in the evidence room.

And they had no idea what they did with the photographs they took of the wallet when they found it in the car.

An internal police investigation revealed that Sgt. Antoinette Jackson, a supervisor in the Forensics Division, gave the wallet to Judith Savage, a police officer, to return to its owner, Joel George. George is Savage's brother.

Prosecutors say by the time the case came to trial, George, who had more than one wallet, couldn't say for sure which was the one the robbers had taken.

So the case rested solely on Joseph's identification of Fahie through a stocking mask during the 2-minute robbery.

Prosecutors thought that was not enough.

Jackson says that the decision to give George the wallet was hers and that she did so because he needed it.

"He had his ID and things he would need for work and his driver's license and stuff," Jackson says. "Since pictures were taken, it was given back."

But she says she had nothing to do with the missing photographs or negatives.

"The negatives were in a bin in Nisky Center where you process people as they come in for fingerprints," Jackson says. She says she has no idea who could have taken them.

Capt. Vincent Georges, Investigations Bureau commander, defended the Police Department's actions in the Fahie case. He said it was not unusual for the department to return evidence before a trial once the evidence had been photographed.

Not so, says Via.

"The decision to return any evidence is a prosecutor's decision, not that of the police," Via says.

"And it would seem to make sense that you would be sure you had the pictures before the wallet was returned."

Before the Tutu armed robbery, Fahie was convicted, in a plea bargain, of third-degree assault. He got a 60-day suspended sentence and a year's probation.

Before that, Fahie had three violent-crime convictions in New York, including one for assaulting a police officer.

But none of his other crimes compared to the one on the evening of April 26, 1991. That night, a hysterical Sabrina Arnette ran into the Charlotte Amalie police station screaming that her boyfriend, Joel Fahie, was beating her 2-year-old baby daughter to death.

Police rushed to the Fahie home and found the baby, Shanaquinn Arnette, dead. She was lying face down on the floor. She had welts and bruises and deep burns on her back and over most of the rest of her tiny body, according to an officer at the scene.

The autopsy found that the fatty tissue on the child's buttocks was fried, as if she had been placed in a frying pan.

The autopsy also discovered old injuries, indicating that the baby had been beaten and burned earlier, too.

Police charged Fahie with first-degree murder.

But the autopsy also found that the cause of death was suffocation, not beating. The coroner said it appeared that someone held a hand over the child's face until she stopped breathing.

Fahie admitted he hit the baby but insisted he did not kill her. Because the baby's mother, the prosecution's main witness, had a history of mental problems, prosecutors weren't sure they could make the murder charge against Fahie stick.

At the time, the territory had no laws specifically pertaining to child abuse, so Fahie was charged with third-degree assault on the baby. He pleaded guilty to that charge and served eight months of a one-year sentence.

The case prompted the Legislature to change V.I. criminal law to include child abuse. Had Fahie been tried under the new law, he would have faced 20 years in prison.

But now, despite his violent past and despite what looked like an open-and-shut armed robbery case, Fahie remains free -- because those charged with helping to keep him off the streets failed to do so.