EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 17, 2012

Double murder suspect may tell 'his side of the story'

By Jill Harmacinski jharmacinski@eagletribune.com
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — LAWRENCE - Facing life in prison without parole, Johan Saint Clair may testify in his own defense in the La Guira nightclub double murder trial this morning.

Armed with a semi-automatic handgun, Saint Clair is accused of opening fire on Sept. 6, 2010 and killing a man and woman in the 205 Broadway club. The blast of gunfire into the packed club at midnight was retribution against “joloperos” or home invading and torturing thieves who previously robbed Saint Clair of a large amount of cocaine, prosecutors say.

But Saint Clair, through his defense attorney, maintains his innocence. “He has told me he was not the shooter and had nothing to do with it,” said Russell Sobelman, a Lynn attorney.

Saint Clair said the real shooter fired into the nightclub and then made him drive the getaway car. Saint Clair was captured after a police chase that ended off Interstate 495 near the Lowell-Tewksbury line.

“It’s not fair the real shooter and his friend got away that night,” Sobelman said yesterday. “He’s being held responsible when he’s actually a victim.”

When the trial started a week ago in Lawrence Superior Court, Sobelman said Saint Clair intended to testify in his own defense. He said he planned to meet with him yesterday and go over all the evidence and testimony so far. Prosecutor James Gubitose told Judge Richard Welch he intends to rest his case this morning. Sobelman can start calling defense witnesses immediately after, if he chooses to.

“I don’t know if anything has changed his mind ... I know he wants to tell his side of the story,” Sobelman said.

In court yesterday, forensic witnesses told jurors that bullets and casings taken from La Guira and from the body of murder victim Juan Esteban Suazo-Soto matched a .40 caliber Smith and Wesson semi-automatic handgun Saint Clair allegedly fired in the nightclub that night.

State Trooper Michael Perry, who works in the crime scene processing unit, testified Saint Clair’s fingerprints were on the gun’s magazine.

His fingerprints were also found on the inside driver’s window, areas on the driver’s side of the car and the interior door handle, Perry said.

On Monday, a fellow Middleton Jail inmate said Saint Clair told him he shot both Suazo-Soto, 34, of Hyde Park, and Amarilis Roldan, 24, of Dorchester, at La Guira that night. Luis Alberto Gonzalez, 28, who is now in federal custody on a heroin trafficking charge, said the two shared the details of their pending cases.

Gonzalez testified against Saint Clair as a prosecution witness in exchange for leniency in his federal case.

Saint Clair has been held at Middleton Jail since his arrest. His sister, girlfriend and a cousin have attended the trial everyday. Yesterday, as he was leaving court to be taken back to Middleton Jail, he blew a kiss to his girlfriend.

Gubitose previously described the killings as premeditated and deliberate. He is also charged with wounding Valerie Verdejo, a La Guira waitress, as well as Jose Luis Medran Baez, and illegally carrying the semi-automatic handgun.

Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter under the screenname EagleTribJill.