Cleared of cocaine, men sentenced for ganja

After admitting they had brought ganja from Jamaica to Cayman, Shane William Junior McLean was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment while Arick Ren Williams received 18 months.

McLean, 19, and Williams, 20, returned to Summary Court on the ganja charges after a Grand Court jury found them not guilty of importing cocaine (Caymanian Compass, 4 June, 2009).

Chief Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale handed down the prison terms on 5 November. In the interval, the Crown had considered the basis of the men’s pleas: Of the 292.73 pounds of ganja involved, McLean accepted responsibility for 10 pounds, Williams for 81 pounds.

The two men were caught with two others and the drugs aboard the 33-foot vessel AVA on 3 January off the coast of East End.

The four first appeared in Summary Court on 9 January, charged with importation of ganja, found in 21 separate buckets, suitcases and other containers. At that stage, the vegetable matter was still being processed.

On the next court date, 3 February, the Crown advised that analysts had found two parcels of cocaine inside two of the containers of ganja. The men were charged with importing 1.63 pounds of the hard drug and the case went to Grand Court.

During their trial, McLean and Williams told the jury that some of the ganja was theirs. But they denied any knowledge of or involvement with the cocaine.

After the not guilty verdicts, Justice Leighton Pusey said they were free to go on the cocaine charge. However, they still faced the charge of importing ganja in Summary Court. ‘I am sure that, based on the evidence you gave here, you will be taking a certain course,’ he told them, using the phrase that typically precedes a guilty plea.

In hearing submissions before sentencing, the chief magistrate said she found it difficult to rationalise the basis of plea. It suggested that McLean and Williams had their own separate enterprises and the other two men on the boat had their own enterprise. ‘It’s different from what we know.’

However, she acknowledged, she could not go behind what the Crown had agreed to.

Defence Attorney Ben Tonner spoke for both defendants. He said McLean had been using ganja at the time of his offence. He had gone to Jamaica on holiday; his trip was financed by selling his car. He was bringing the ganja back for his personal use, but he intended to sell some to pay for the purchase.

Mr. Tonner said Williams was unemployed and approached by someone in Cayman to make the trip to Jamaica. He said he would have been paid 15 pounds of the ganja ‘to do with as he wished.’ Both defendants expressed regret and accepted responsibility for their actions, the attorney indicated.

He pointed out that the boat captain, Ian Linwall Johnson, got four years for the ganja and eight years concurrent for the cocaine. Johnson, 56, pleaded guilty in Grand Court on the basis that he was responsible for all of his cargo.

The chief magistrate said the problem was that the maximum sentence for a first offence of ganja is seven years. Although offenders with larger quantities get higher sentences, there could not be any strict mathematical proportion. Otherwise, she would end up giving sentences of 30 days.

The sentence must be custody because it must be a deterrent, she emphasised.

The 12 and 18 months were the shortest term she could impose. ‘It is the court’s hope that when you return to the community you will avoid further unlawful conduct,’ the chief magistrate told the two.

The fourth man on the boat, Cornel Alfonso Powell, maintained in Grand Court that he was drunk when he boarded the vessel in Jamaica for what he thought was a trip to the cays to buy fish. The jury found him not guilty of the cocaine charge.

Attorney Nicholas Dixey was eventually successful in getting the Crown to not proceed on the ganja charge. Powell was released to return to Jamaica.