Cocaine offence nets 12 years

Attempting to export cocaine in 2006 landed Stephen Edward Whittaker in prison for 12 years after Chief Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale heard arguments about sentencing on Wednesday.

The amount involved was 13.9 ounces, or 395 grams.

Crown Counsel Tanya Lobban said Customs officers were called to the airport security checkpoint because of a suspicious package on 23 November 2006. The package led to Whittaker, who was then questioned and searched. The search revealed a package wrapped around his leg with a bandage.

At his residence officers observed a black bag and duct tape on his bed. Whittaker made full admissions and said those items were used to conceal the cocaine.

Informal records kept by the Caymanian Compass indicate that Whittaker received bail in December 2006 with sureties of $50,000. In April 2007 he pleaded not guilty to attempting to export cocaine. On at least one occasion his matter was put off because the court did not have time to hear it.

In July 2010, Whittaker did not answer his bail and the court learned of several defendants who had gone out in a fishing vessel and drifted to Jamaica after engine trouble. Whittaker was among them. His sureties were called on to pay the $50,000 (Compass, 27 October).

He subsequently returned to Cayman and on 16 December pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine, possession with intent to supply and attempting to export the drug.

Defence Attorney John Furniss said Whittaker had found the package. Because of financial difficulties with his business and the need to care for his sick child, Whittaker decided to distribute the cocaine, but not locally. “He said he only did it because his youngster was sick,” Mr. Furniss emphasised.

The magistrate said the only sentence was custody. “Good character is of no moment. A sick child is of no moment.” Otherwise, the drug movers would all be people with sick children, she said.

Mr. Furniss referred to sentencing guidelines: up to four ounces of cocaine, the sentence starting point is 10-12 years; 15 years or more for kilo quantities. He said 12 years would be regarded as the starting point, with a discount for the guilty plea.

The magistrate disagreed, saying 13 ounces was more than four, and looked at the 12-14-year range.

In considering the guilty plea, she looked at whether the plea assisted the prosecution in proving its case. “But he was caught red-handed,” she pointed out. Another consideration was how soon after the offence he entered his guilty plea. “This was not an early plea,” she noted. For these reasons, the discount was not going to be a usual full one-third.

She started at 13 years and deducted one year for the guilty plea. For failure to surrender to custody, the sentence was six months consecutive.

Whittaker, now 28, said he thought the sentence was unfair compared to what other offenders had received. “I was trying to help my child. I warrant some punishment, but why such a lengthy sentence?” he asked.

The magistrate reminded him of his right to appeal.

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