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British Virgin Islands

CaribWx-Road Town
USA Today 5 Day
Marine Forecast

Republished by permission of
Charlottesville Daily Progress

Trouble in Paradise

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 Islands.
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
precipitous turn.
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 Connecticut.
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 killing.
Authorities have yet to offer a motive for the killing, but have hinted that
it probably was not premeditated.
"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
Lewis "Casey" Spicer III. "We’ve come to have every confidence in the
Tortolans’ handling of the case."
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 said.
"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
sister said.
"They are quite relaxed," said Chris Matthews, also of Watertown, who
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. "Everybody
kind of thought he was mysterious. Stories flew around town about him and
his activities."
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 waiting list.
"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 assets."
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 Albemarle County.
Casey Spicer said that his paternal great-grandfather had been a Baptist
minister in Charlottesville and that the family considered Virginia a
"special place."
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
Charlottesville nightspots 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 "aloof."
"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 tan.
When not living at his mother’s house, he was always "just a phone call
away" in 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 law-abiding
community," Johnston said. "I think that [the crime rate] is indicative that
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 Bomba’s
Shack, a bar that McMillen frequented. "It shakes the island a little bit
because a lot of people know the girl."
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 crime]."
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,"
Matthews said.
The police don’t agree.
"We wouldn’t have them in the prison if we weren’t confident that they were
involved," Johnston said.
Fateful days
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" and
"didn’t mix around," it would have been natural for McMillen to see Spicer,
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
home," Josephine McMillen said.
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 another drink."
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,
authorities said.
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.
Grisly scenario
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 the island.
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
disclose it.
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 mother.
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 that
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
of murder.
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."

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