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Nov 12, 2009 11:37 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Defense attorney is still looking for witnesses of fatal stabbing outside Hampton Bays Diner

Nov 12, 2009 11:37 AM

The defense attorney representing Jermaine Holmes, the Northampton man charged with fatally stabbing 26-year-old Calvin Butts of Riverside outside the Hampton Bays Diner over Memorial Day weekend, said witnesses have been reluctant to come forward to describe the fatal encounter.

“There has been a conspiracy of silence,” said Susan Menu, the Riverhead attorney who was hired by Mr. Holmes after he was arrested on June 1, about a week after the incident, and charged with second-degree murder. “I needed witnesses to reach out to me,” she said.

According to Mr. Holmes’s file, which is kept with the Suffolk County Criminal Court in Riverhead, Ms. Menu filed a motion on June 24, two days after her client was indicted, requesting detailed information about the witnesses who oversaw the altercation between Mr. Holmes and Mr. Butts.

The motion also inquires as to whether any of the witnesses had subjected themselves to hypnosis to recall the events that led to the stabbing of Mr. Butts at around 4 a.m. on May 24 outside the diner. Mr. Butts died later at Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead.

Ms. Menu said requests like that are standard procedure, because a defense attorney has only 45 days after the indictment to file the motion and doesn’t know what kind of evidence might be out there that early in the process. “You have to throw everything in there but the kitchen sink,” she said.

Ms. Menu said that she had filed the motion back in June because no witnesses had come forward to speak with her. When reached earlier this week, she indicated that nothing has changed in that regard.

Her task is to get an idea of the case that the prosecution is building, she said, and to piece together exactly what happened on the morning Mr. Butts was killed so she can defend her client.

“There are a number of people who spoke to the [Suffolk County] district attorney right after it happened, but they won’t talk to me,” Ms. Menu said. “It just seems to me stunning that no one will step forward to tell the truth.”

She declined to discuss specifics of her client’s murder case, citing the ongoing pre-trial hearings taking place in Riverhead.

Robert Clifford, a spokesman for Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, declined to say whether any witnesses have spoken with the prosecution.

Witnesses who are reluctant to come forward are common hurdles for defense attorneys, according to Daniel G. Rodgers, a criminal defense attorney with offices in Riverhead and Southampton and a former prosecutor for Suffolk County. Often, they just don’t want to get involved, he said.

“In many cases, there’s no reason to want to help,” Mr. Rodgers said. “They’re not being compelled. They may be afraid. There could be a number of reasons a person would not want to assist a defense case.”

Mr. Holmes, 25, is due to return to Suffolk County Criminal Court in Riverhead on Friday, November 20, for a fourth status conference hearing before Suffolk County Judge James F.X. Doyle.

Mr. Holmes was arrested by Suffolk County Police on June 1 after he turned himself in to authorities at the 7th Precinct in Shirley. Police said that Mr. Holmes, who is still being held at the Suffolk County Jail in Riverside without bail, stabbed Mr. Butts multiple times during an altercation outside the Hampton Bays Diner before fleeing the scene.

If convicted of second-degree murder, Mr. Holmes faces 25 years to life in prison.

Detective Lieutenant Jack Fitzpatrick, the head of the Suffolk County Police Department’s Homicide Squad, said in a previous interview that both Mr. Holmes and Mr. Butts were inside the Hampton Bays Diner during the early morning hours of May 24 before stepping outside. A fight soon broke out and Mr. Butts was stabbed several times, according to police. Detectives said they do not know why the fight started.

Mr. Butts was transported to Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead where he died from multiple stab wounds.

Relatives of Mr. Butts, including his mother, Sharon Butts, have not been available to comment on the upcoming trial. No one answered the door at Ms. Butts’s Riverside home Tuesday evening.

A 2001 graduate of Riverhead High School, Mr. Butts was on the school’s honor roll and a starter for its basketball and football teams.

Ms. Menu said she does not know when her client’s murder trial would begin, adding that the Suffolk County DA’s office might be in a better position to answer that question. Mr. Clifford said he did not know when the case would go to trial.

“Much of the timeline prior to trial is driven by the defense and by the judge’s calendar of trials and hearings for other defendants,” Mr. Clifford wrote in an e-mail. “As the case goes forward, Mr. Holmes’s defense attorney will have the opportunity to file motions and the court will rule on each motion.”

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This is a truly tragic case which did not have to happen. I do not know what it will take to break the culture of violence that led to this. So many lives are destroyed as a result of an altercation over something that is inconsequential when looking in retrospect.
By Integrity Party Guy (26), Riverhead on Nov 13, 09 6:57 PM
1 member liked this comment
Integrity Party Guy-you stated my feelings about this case beautifully....I hope and pray the young men are able to become leaders that take a future path of raising children that have better ways to live their lives...through work, education, and simple family life. (The celebrity/fame life and nightlife....is good for a brief moment...family and true friends last a lifetime.)
By UNITED states CITIZEN (207), SOUTHAMPTON on May 21, 10 9:05 AM