DNA evidence helps convict Joshua Brown in judge-alone trial
Joshua Alexander Brown, who chose to be tried by judge alone, was found guilty and sentenced last week to 12 years imprisonment for possession of an unlicensed firearm.
Brown had pleaded not guilty and, during his trial in March, suggested that jealousy could have been a motive for somebody transferring his DNA onto the gun because he was having intimate relationships with two different women.
Justice Seymour Panton heard that police officers went with a search warrant to the premises of one of the women on the morning of 8 September 2011. Brown was there. Officers conducted their search and found a Springfield Colt .45-calibre and six rounds of .45-calibre ammunition wrapped in a shirt in the freezer compartment of a refrigerator.
They also found a bag with gloves and a mask inside a closet. Brown said the mask was not his, but he wore the gloves to clean his vehicle.
An expert witness said the DNA she found on the gun was a mixture of at least two individuals contributing to a major and a minor profile. The major profile matched the DNA profile obtained from Brown. The chance that an unrelated person selected at random from the general population would match that profile was one in 47 quadrillion.
The expert said the contributor of the major profile probably handled the gun with greater frequency, while the contributor of the minor profile probably handled it one or twice.
Justice Panton said he was satisfied beyond all doubt that Brown’s DNA could not have been found on the firearm unless he had actually handled it. He accepted the expert opinion that Brown’s DNA could not have been transferred by someone else handling an item from Brown and putting it on the gun.
The verdict was announced in March, but sentencing was delayed pending a social inquiry report and the return of Justice Panton to this jurisdiction.
Crown Counsel Tricia Hutchinson, who conducted the case for the prosecution, told the court last Thursday that local sentences for unlicensed firearms have ranged from seven years on a guilty plea to 12 years. In that case, she said, the offender pleaded guilty also, but had a previous conviction for a like offence as a youngster and got probation.
She emphasised the mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years, unless the court found there were exceptional circumstances. The Crown’s position in Brown’s case was that there were none, she said.
Defence attorney Lucy Organ agreed, but told the court that Brown had been in custody most of his young adult life. “Don’t take all hope from him,” she urged.
According to reports in the Caymanian Compass, Brown was sentenced to the 10 year mandatory minimum imprisonment in February 2007 after pleading guilty to possession of a Taurus .38-calibre revolver found by police at his residence in June 2006. In January 2008, the legislature passed an amendment providing for the possibility of the lesser seven-year sentence when an offender pleads guilty.
Three months later, attorney Ailsa Williamson was the first to raise the point of law in the Court of Appeal and was successful in getting Brown’s sentence reduced to seven years. She also argued special circumstances, advising the court that Brown was 17 at the time of the 2006 offence, but the high court judges did not agree.
In his sentencing remarks, Justice Panton said he had considered all that was said by Brown’s attorney and in his social inquiry report, plus the facts of the case. He said he was also duty bound to consider the law as passed by the legislature of the Cayman Islands, which had legislated that possession of an unlicensed firearm was a serious offence. According to the legislature, the court must – not may – impose a mandatory sentence of 10 years unless there were special circumstances. In this case there were none, he noted.
Taking everything into account, he imposed a term of 12 years, with time in custody since the offence to be taken into account.
The major profile on the gun matched the DNA profile obtained from Brown. The chance that an unrelated person selected at random from the general population would match that profile was one in 47 quadrillion.