Two men were jailed Tuesday for 10 years each and a woman was jailed for two years for possessing an unlicensed firearm.
Julia Elizabeth Lewis, 27, was sentenced for possession of a .38 Hi-Point pistol at Countryside Shopping Village on Aug. 16, 2013.
Judge Michael Mettyear sentenced Jordan Manderson and Austin Jackson, both 22, in relation to the same incident as Lewis.
Cayman’s Firearm Law sets a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years for a person found guilty of the offense after trial; if the defendant pleads guilty, the mandatory sentence is seven years unless there is some exceptional circumstance.
Lewis pleaded guilty in October 2014. In summing up what happened next, the judge said he found exceptional circumstances.
He quoted her attorney, Nicholas Dixey, as saying Lewis took the “brave step” of giving evidence against Manderson and Austin, who were charged with possession of the same firearm.
Both pleaded not guilty and elected trial by judge alone; Justice Mettyear found them guilty in November 2015 and adjourned sentencing pending social inquiry reports.
Senior Crown counsel Tricia Hutchinson, summarizing the incident, said the charges arose after police received a report of a car driving dangerously. Officers gave chase in the vicinity of the Spotts Beach area.
Just before the car crashed into a utility pole near Countryside in Savannah, an object – the gun – was thrown from the passenger side of the vehicle. The three occupants, Jackson, Manderson and Lewis, were seen leaving the car.
The court heard that Lewis picked up the gun and ran with it into the shopping center, where a security guard saw her put it in a waste bin.
When he removed it, Lewis begged him to give it back to her, saying she had two children and did not want to go to prison. The guard gave it back.
Lewis then threw the gun into bushes behind the shopping center. Closed-circuit TV captured all of her movements. She left the scene, changed clothes and then returned, telling officers at the scene that the car was hers.
Questioned further, she gave three different accounts and denied being involved with the firearm, which had ammunition in it.
At the time, there was no evidence against Jackson or Manderson relating to the gun.
Lewis initially pleaded not guilty and was to have gone on trial in 2014. When Mr. Dixey asked the trial judge what sentence would be likely if Lewis pleaded guilty, he was told there were no exceptional circumstances and the sentence would be seven or eight years.
However, after her guilty plea, Lewis provided statements that became the basis of the case against Manderson and Jackson.
After the men’s trial and again at sentencing, Justice Mettyear said he was quite sure Lewis regretted her part in the incident. She had lied in order to distance herself from the gun, but then decided to tell the truth.
“I feel she is a decent young woman who has done her best to give a balanced account,” the judge said.
Jackson, who was supposed to fix something on her car, picked her up after work, and Manderson, whom she did not know, was in the back seat. On the way to her home in Savannah, the men passed a gun back and forth. At one stage, Jackson put it on her lap. She picked it up and put it on his lap. She asked what he was going to do with it and he began to sing, “Kiss the gun.” She was afraid he was going to kill her.
When police began chasing her car, she wanted to disassociate herself from the gun.
Because she had touched it, she was aware her DNA might be on it, so she threw it from the car just before the crash. Manderson told her to pick it up and she did, carrying it into Countryside, where she again threw it away.
Manderson later got a ride from someone he knew and got Lewis to come along as they drove around the shopping center. She showed him where she had thrown the gun the second time.
This was the action that Justice Mettyear said made it impossible for him to pass a sentence of less than two years. He said Lewis could have told police about the gun after the crash.
In telling Manderson where it was, “she must have suspected at the very least that he wanted to recover it. Had that happened, it might still be out on the street,” he said.
Mr. Dixey advised the court that Lewis went into custody for eight months after her guilty plea and was bailed in May 2015. He said that time was equal to a sentence of one year and he asked that she not be sent back to prison.
He cited a case in the U.K., where the mandatory minimum sentence is five years. There, a woman had kept a gun for someone over a period of months. Her sentence was reduced on appeal to six months. In Lewis’s case, she had held the gun for a matter of seconds. A sentence of 12 months would be proportional, he urged, and would not be considered unduly lenient.
Justice Mettyear sentenced Lewis to two years imprisonment, with credit for time served.
For Manderson, attorney Laurence Aiolfi referred to medical reports which described him as functioning mentally at the level of an 8-year-old. Justice Mettyear pointed out that Manderson had worked as a boat captain and interacted with tourists from all over the world.
During his trial, Manderson had given his evidence without difficulty, the judge said.
Manderson had said he could not remember, but this was in the context of being drunk at the time. The judge found no exceptional circumstance.
For Jackson, attorney Crister Brady accepted that his client had previous convictions for serious offenses and asked for justice tempered with mercy. The judge said he would not raise the sentence above the mandatory minimum.