- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 12, 2014

KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) - Police in the U.S. Virgin Islands on Wednesday defended their handling of an unsolved slaying of a New Jersey native who was fatally stabbed more than three weeks ago during an apparent burglary.

James Malfetti III was raised in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, but had been living in the three-island U.S. territory for about a year. The 41-year-old technology consultant’s body was found Jan. 19 in an estate’s guesthouse that he was renting on the tiny island of St. John, a normally tranquil place where a national park makes up more than half the island.

Malfetti’s parents have enlisted the help of New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, telling him that the U.S. Virgin Islands police force have handled the murder investigation amateurishly from the start, failing to collect evidence and even discarding valuable forensic clues. Police initially labelled the case as a suspicious death, but a couple of days later reclassified it as a homicide. There have been no arrests.

Virgin Islands Police Commissioner Rodney Querrard insisted in a Wednesday statement that police have “taken all necessary steps since the day the victim was found” to process evidence and follow leads.

“This case is an active investigation and we will continue the process of investigating the unfortunate death of James Malfetti until we can file a criminal complaint,” Querrard said.

His statement comes two days after Menendez, a Democrat, wrote a letter to FBI Director James Comey requesting assistance from the agency, saying that “the family deserves a competent investigation.” Menendez said the grieving parents had experienced a “hostile and uninterested law enforcement response.”

The parents told The Associated Press on Wednesday that they believe island investigators have displayed “gross negligence.” Police officers initially only probed the break-in at the main estate house and failed to see the slashed window screen at their son’s rental in the small guesthouse right next door, they said. Malfetti’s body was discovered a day later by his landlord. His car, cellphone, money and TV were stolen.

“We can’t believe the incompetence,” Jim Malfetti said during a phone interview from his home in New Jersey.

Querrard’s statement said he expressed his condolences to the family, but Malfetti’s parents said they hadn’t heard a word from him. They said police even failed to notify them when their son’s body was found.

On Wednesday, FBI spokesman Christopher M. Allen said the U.S. agency had received Menendez’s letter seeking their assistance in the investigation and would respond to him.

Querrard said local FBI agents are assisting with the probe but did not disclose more details. He said police would update Malfetti’s parents and “address their issues to the best of our ability without compromising the case.”

Last year, 38 people were killed in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the total split between the bigger islands of St. Thomas and St. Croix. The territory is home to about 106,000 people.

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David McFadden on Twitter: http://twitter.com/dmcfadd