Republished by permission of
By ADAM GOLDMAN
Daily Progress staff writer
February 20th, 2000
Not a bad winter vacation:
soaking up the sun and the nightlife on Tortola
in the British Virgin
And it was all very familiar
to Michael Spicer.
A 36-year-old law school
graduate who didn't practice law, Spicer frequently
spent time at the villa his
family owns on Tortola. When not on the upscale
resort island, or jet-setting
around the world, he would divide his time
between his condo in
Washington and his mother's $600,000 home in Albemarle
But within weeks of his Jan.
3 arrival on Tortola, Spicer's life took a
Spicer and three other men
were charged by British Virgin Islands
authorities with the murder
of 34-year-old Lois Livingston McMillen, a
struggling artist from
McMillen's body was
discovered on the morning of Jan. 15, draped over a
beach rock. An autopsy report
said the cause of death was drowning.
The four men, all of whom
were staying at the Spicer villa, were questioned
by police and detained that
same day. They were charged with McMillen's
murder on Jan. 19.
Spicer; Evan S. George, 22, a
native of Santa Clara, Calif.; and William J.
Labrador, 36, and Alexander
S. Benedetto, 34, both of New York, are being
held without bond at the
prison in Road Town, capital of the British Virgin
They are scheduled to appear
at a preliminary inquiry Wednesday. At that
time, crown prosecutors will
present forensic evidence that, they say, will
link the men to McMillen's
Authorities have yet to offer
a motive for the killing, but have hinted that
it probably was not
"Everything we have, we
will produce at the preliminary inquiry," said
Terrence Williams, senior
crown counsel with the Tortola Attorney General
Chambers. "There is a
responsibility to disclose what we have. There's no
reservation to show our
evidence. There's no ambush."
Spicer's Road Town lawyer,
Joseph Archibald, has declined to discuss the
Spicer's brother, speaking
from his home in Watertown, N.Y., said he
believed the men would be
treated fairly by the British Virgin Islands
"We have the expectation
that the Tortolan judicial system will work," said
Spicer III. "We've come to have every confidence in
Tortolans' handling of the
David A. Martin, former
general counsel to the U.S. Immigration and
Naturalization Service and a
professor at the University of Virginia's
School of Law, explained that
the four are presumed innocent until proven
"This is a British
system with a full range of protections," Martin
"Whatever wrinkles there
may be in procedure, [Spicer] should have all the
basic safeguards we would
expect in an American trial."
A territory of the United
Kingdom, the British Virgin Islands does not have
capital punishment. If
convicted, Spicer and the three other men could face
life in prison, with the
possibility of parole.
Despite their dire situation,
the men's spirits aren't flagging, Spicer's
"They are quite
relaxed," said Chris Matthews, also of Watertown,
recently visited her youngest
brother in Road Town. "The guys all have
Matthews said her brother has
access to a fax machine and telephone and that
the four men were wearing
their own clothes when she visited them in prison.
Meanwhile, word of Spicer's
plight has reached the Charlottesville area,
prompting talk about a man
many people frequently saw but knew little about.
A former employee at a
Downtown Mall coffee shop, for example, said that
Spicer was a regular customer
from 1994 to 1997, always ordering a
double-tall skinny latte.
"Everybody assumed he
was independently wealthy," the woman said.
kind of thought he was
mysterious. Stories flew around town about him and
In the beginning
Raised in Watertown in
upstate New York near the eastern shore of Lake
Ontario, Michael Graves
Spicer attended the local high school. His father,
Lewis Spicer, had been
co-captain of the Syracuse University basketball team
in the mid-1940s and played
professionally for the Syracuse Nationals before
becoming a lawyer.
Lewis Spicer died in 1981 -
two days after Michael graduated from high
school - following an 18-year
battle with Parkinson's disease. He left his
family a sizeable estate.
Michael Spicer graduated from
Syracuse in 1986 with a bachelor's degree in
history. He moved to the West
Coast and attended law school at the
University of California-San
Francisco for a year. He then enrolled as a
first-year student at the
Georgetown University Law Center, where he had
originally been placed on the
"I just thought he was a
great guy, but he was a little bit wild by my
standards," said Justin
Cohen, a San Francisco resident who met Spicer
during the year Spicer lived
in California. "He was very complex. His energy
level was very high. Some of
us felt he had a little too much time on his
Spicer earned his law degree
from Georgetown in 1990, yet he has never
practiced law. "He has
taken the bar [exam] unsuccessfully," Cohen
Spicer's occupation, one
family member said, is "managing his own
Shortly after finishing law
school, Spicer moved his mother, Teena, from
Watertown to a newly
purchased house on Lake Road near the exclusive
Farmington Country Club in
Casey Spicer said that his
paternal great-grandfather had been a Baptist
minister in Charlottesville
and that the family considered Virginia a
Since then, his brother and
sister said, Michael Spicer has taken care of
their mother, who exhibits
early signs of Alzheimer's disease.
While staying with his mother
in Albemarle, Spicer often went to downtown
such as Escafe and Club 216.
"He used to come all the
time . but never caused any trouble at the club,"
said Clyde Cooper, a
co-founder of Club 216 and its manager until last
Carlos Pezua, a former
bartender at Escafe, said that Spicer, whom he met
six years ago, came across as
"He didn't interact with
anyone specifically. He didn't have one set group
of friends," Pezua said.
"He was definitely part of the scene."
Others described the
6-foot-tall, brown-haired Spicer as good-looking, chic,
well-read and perpetually
When not living at his
mother's house, he was always "just a phone call
Washington, family members said.
Spicer recorded a message on
the answering machine of his Washington condo
before he left for Tortola:
"Thank you for calling. I'm either at the farm
in Virginia until Jan. 3, or
from Jan. 3 till at least Feb. 12 I will be at
Zebra House on Tortola."
With him there would be
Labrador, a friend for about 10 years who once
worked at a top modeling
agency in New York; Benedetto, a former Navy Seal
who is employed at his
father's New York publishing house; and George, who
met Spicer in San Francisco
in 1998 and later moved to Washington, though
his last known address is a
homeless shelter in Portland, Ore., where he is
wanted on drug charges.
Lay of the land
Homicide is far from common
in the British Virgin Islands. The tranquil
islands - located east of
Puerto Rico between the Atlantic Ocean and the
Caribbean Sea - have seen
only six murders since 1996, and none of those
involved a visitor until
McMillen's killing, said John Johnston, deputy
commissioner of the Royal
Virgin Islands Police Force.
"We don't use the
terminology 'zero tolerance,' but it is a very
said. "I think that [the crime rate] is indicative
this is a very peaceful part
of the world.
"One of the mainstays of
the economy is tourism, and we want tourists to
feel safe on the island. And
given the statistics, we feel we can claim
"Despite this having
happened, it is still one of the safest havens in the
Caribbean. I would certainly
hope it wouldn't put people off from coming
Nevertheless, the killing of
McMillen has Tortola talking.
"Everybody know about
it," said Charles "Bomba" Smith, owner of
Shack, a bar that McMillen
frequented. "It shakes the island a little bit
because a lot of people know
Those who know Spicer, while
stunned by the charges, maintain that he could
not have been involved in
such a brutal crime.
Matthews said she is
convinced that there is "absolutely no evidence that
could link them with [the
The arrest, Matthews said,
was merely a precaution meant to safeguard the
island's main industry,
tourism. "My thought all along has been that you
have to stop [the fear] fast
so people aren't afraid to walk the beach,"
The police don't agree.
"We wouldn't have them
in the prison if we weren't confident that they were
Lois McMillen arrived on
Tortola Dec. 30. Spicer and his friends got there
four days later.
Though the woman was,
according to her father, Russell G. McMillen, retired
chairman and CEO of the
Eastern Co. of Naugatuck, Conn., "shy socially"
around," it would have been natural for McMillen to
considering they had known
each other for about 20 years.
The Spicers built their
Tortola villa in the late 1970s. Shortly thereafter,
the McMillens moved into a
neighboring house and the families became
Lois McMillen also knew
Benedetto from a past fling on the island, according
to Spicer's sister.
But McMillen didn't do much
socializing upon arriving in Tortola, because
she became ill, according to
her mother, Josephine McMillen. The young woman
wouldn't meet up with Spicer
and his pals until the night of Jan. 12.
"[Lois] ran into them at
Bomba's Shack on Wednesday night and drove them
The next afternoon,
"Michael called . and Lois took them to a local
restaurant," the mother
said. "Then she took them to Road Town, a half an
hour away, to another bar for
Chris Matthews said her
brother and his friends likely did not want to drive
on Tortola because of the
island's strict drunken-driving laws.
On the evening of Jan. 14,
the McMillens had supper at their villa, then
Lois went alone to a blues
bar called the Jolly Roger. That, Josephine
McMillen said, was the last
time she saw her daughter alive.
Spicer and his three friends
also went out that evening. At some point
during the night, Labrador
left his friends and went back to Zebra House,
It remains unclear where
Spicer, Benedetto and George went and what they did
the rest of that night.
However, a witness told police he had seen three men
following McMillen on the
beach in the early hours of Jan. 15. He did not
see their faces.
At about 8:30 a.m. on
Saturday, Jan. 15, a passerby discovered the fully
clothed body of a white woman
on the beach near the Sir Francis Drake
Highway on the west end of
Near the scene, detectives
found "female accessories strewn from the road to
the sea and some blood
stains," according to an affidavit filed by Jacob
George, a chief inspector
with the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force.
"Before leaving the
scene, I formed the suspicion that the deceased had been
involved in a struggle and
had died through foul play," George wrote.
The woman had neither been
robbed nor raped, police determined. The time of
death has been established,
prosecutor Williams said, but he would not
That same day, the McMillens
reported that their daughter was missing. Based
on the family's description,
the police deduced that the dead woman was Lois
McMillen. The parents later
confirmed the identity of the body.
Police recovered Lois
McMillen's rental car about a mile away from where her
body was found. The car's
interior showed signs of a violent struggle,
according to McMillen's
It didn't take very long for
police to turn to Spicer and his friends once
they got reports that the men
and McMillen had been seen together.
George, the chief inspector,
interviewed Spicer and the other men shortly
after noon at Zebra House.
Justin Cohen, in San
Francisco, said he spoke with Spicer on the telephone
that day. "He sounded a
little down," Cohen recalled. "He was upset
this beautiful young girl was
dead. They had been spending time together."
Spicer, he said, also related
that "the police have just been here."
By 6 p.m., Spicer, Labrador,
Benedetto and George were detained on suspicion
The police also obtained a
search warrant for Zebra House, where they
identified the clothing the
men had been wearing the night before.
"Michael Spicer admitted
to having been wearing a blood-stained shirt," the
chief inspector wrote.
"He was not able to account for the blood."
The four men were formally
charged Jan. 19. They have been in the Road Town
prison ever since.
Michael Spicer, however, has
not lost hope. He ended a fax to his sister
Friday the same way he has
ended previous messages from prison: "I am
resigned to the fact that our
innocence will prevail."