Police seized 125 ganja plants and charged two West Bay men with cultivating the illegal substance in June 2005.
But when the men came to trial in June 2007, the plants were not available as evidence. Acting Magistrate Valdis Foldats was told they had died.
Last week, Royce Cornwall, 26, and Curtis Mack Ebanks, 27, were found not guilty of cultivating ganja. But the verdict was not based on the lack of plants as evidence.
During the trial, the magistrate heard that the pots containing the plants were removed from an open field to the West Bay Police Station, then placed in large plastic exhibit bags and stored in the exhibits room at the Central Police Station in George Town. They never got to the lab.
Officers did take photographs of the plants, which were shown to the court, but there were no certificates of analysis.
The magistrate adjourned the matter for a few days for research. He concluded, and all parties agreed, that it is preferable to have a certificate, but inferences can be drawn from the facts of the case.
The first officer said he was at the station when he received certain information. As a result, he went with other officers to an area off Captain Reginald Parsons Drive, where he expected to see two individuals.
He saw a clump of bushes and proceeded toward it in a crouched manner, quietly and slowly, while other officers placed themselves on the outskirts.
He saw two men standing over some green plants that looked like ganja. The men were talking, but the officer did not hear what they were saying.
Then the men looked in his direction and ran. He and his fellow officer were both in uniform.
The men who ran were pursued and caught. Officers asked what they were doing and Cornwall said he had gone into the field to have a bowel movement. Ebanks did not say anything.
As to the plants, the officer said he had experience in another jurisdiction destroying acres of ganja that was growing.
He said he had seen plants that look like ganja but are not. In his opinion, the plants he saw on this occasion were ganja. One difference, he explained, is in the thickness of the leaves.
Another officer said he did see Cornwall and Ebanks lean over and touch the leaves of a plant.
On behalf of Cornwall, Attorney John Furniss said there was insufficient evidence. Cornwall was not carrying any water for the plants or any implements to tend to them. If he lied about why he was in that area, there could be other reasons.
Cornwall had previous problems with the police, so it was not unexpected that he would run, Mr. Furniss said.
Attorney Lloyd Samson spoke for Ebanks. He said no sufficient link had been established between the ganja and the men. There was nothing to show care, custody or control. The evidence as presented might give rise to suspicion, he agreed, but that was all.
Crown Counsel Richard Hearnden said the case had been proved against the two men.
One of the officers did see the defendants lean over and touch the plants. The fact that the other officer did not see this could have been because of his angle of view.
Then, when the police were spotted, the men fled.
Cornwall gave a feeble excuse for being there, but the overwhelmingly more plausible explanation was that they were standing over the ganja plants because the plants were theirs, Mr. Hearnden said.
In finding the men not guilty, the magistrate said he had to be careful in dealing with post-offence conduct. There were other reasons the men could have run from the scene.
The magistrate said he had a doubt as to whether the men were exercising control over the plants. He referred to the discrepancy in police evidence. One officer did not see them touching the plants and they were standing there talking.
Besides cultivating ganja, the men were found not guilty of possessing it with intent to supply.
Ebanks pleaded guilty to consuming ganja and he was fined $200.
Cornwall pleaded guilty to refusing to provide a specimen of urine and he was fined $400.