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Police charge man in machete robbery of Supreme Court Justice Breyer

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer
updated 7:58 AM EST, Tue February 21, 2012
Police arrested Vedel Browne, 28, a suspect in the recent armed robbery of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.
Police arrested Vedel Browne, 28, a suspect in the recent armed robbery of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Police on the island of Nevis say a man is charged with robbery in the case
  • Justice Breyer was vacationing on the Caribbean island when he was robbed
  • A machete-wielding assailant made off with $1,000
  • Neither Breyer, his wife nor two others with them were injured

(CNN) -- Police on the Caribbean island of Nevis said Monday a local man has been arrested and charged in the recent armed robbery of vacationing Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

The suspect, 28-year-old Vedel Browne, turned himself in Sunday after officials declared him "a person of interest," and released his photo to the media, according to Sgt. Cledwyn Jeffers of the Royal St. Christopher and Nevis Police Force.

Browne was formally charged with robbery Monday afternoon, said Sgt. Stephen Hector of the police force. Hector said the offense is a felony and carries a maximum sentence of 20 years upon conviction.

Breyer, his wife, her sister, and another guest were in the justice's vacation home February 9 when an intruder armed with a machete broke in and robbed the occupants of about $1,000. Officials said no one was hurt in the incident.

The male assailant fled the scene, according to court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg. The robbery was reported to local authorities shortly after it happened. Breyer and his family have since returned home. The justice attended a dinner last week in Washington with Vice President Joe Biden and the visiting Chinese vice president.

Supreme Court justices unprotected?
Justice Breyer robbed at machete-point

Police officials in a news release said Browne has worked as a gardener, and Jeffers described him as a "Rastafarian." Law enforcement learned of his identity from informants, but it is unclear why Browne was suspected for investigation.

A local law enforcement official had said the evidence indicated the incident was "a crime of opportunity," and that police have seen nothing so far to indicate Breyer was targeted for robbery.

There was no immediate reaction to the arrest from Breyer's office or U.S. federal law enforcement.

The U.S. Marshals Service provides protection for members of the high court when they are traveling domestically, and agency spokesman Jeff Carter said last week the agency was "aware of the incident involving Justice Breyer on the Caribbean island of Nevis and is assisting the Supreme Court Police and local law enforcement authorities with the investigation as needed." He did not elaborate.

FBI spokesman Paul Bresson said after the robbery, "We are assisting the local police with their investigation."

Commissioner C.G. Walwyn of the Royal St. Christopher and Nevis Police Force had said, "Our American-trained crime scene investigators and the members of our Criminal Investigators (unit) are working closely with the FBI on this case."

Breyer has had no comment on the matter. The high court resumes public sessions Tuesday, after a month-long recess.

Nevis is part of the West Indies chain known as the Leeward Islands, located about 350 miles southeast of Puerto Rico.

The court does not talk publicly about specific security arrangements for the justices, either when they are at home or on their frequent travels. During the court's break, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg traveled to Egypt and Tunisia last month as part of an outreach program sponsored by the State Department, which provided her security in the volatile region.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor traveled to Guam and Hawaii, and Justice Antonin Scalia gave a speech in Chicago.

Attacks on members of the federal judiciary are rare, but not new. Then-Justice David Souter was assaulted by a group of young males in 2004 while jogging alone in the evening near his Washington home. Souter suffered some minor bruises and was briefly treated then released from a local hospital.

Justice Byron White was attacked in July 1982 while giving a speech in Utah. That incident led to regular protection by U.S. marshals for members of the court when they travel.

The 73-year-old Breyer was nominated to the high court in 1994, and is known as one of the most active and engaging members of the court. His wife is Dr. Joanna Breyer, a renowned pediatric psychologist.

CNN's Nick Valencia, Nigel Walwyn and Carol Cratty contributed to this report.

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