Sentence cut for coke in hammocks case

Judge’s starting point was too high, Court of Appeal finds

The Cayman Islands Court of Appeal reduced from 12 years to 10 the sentence imposed on Kenecia Melissa Millwood after she was found guilty of importing over six pounds of cocaine in 2014. Attorney Amelia Fosuhene argued successfully on Thursday that 12 years was manifestly excessive.

The cocaine had been secreted in the wooden frames of three hammocks Millwood brought back with her after a trip to Colombia. She elected to be tried in Grand Court, where she told the jury she had bought two hammocks as presents and one for herself, not knowing that they contained cocaine.

The jury did not accept her account.

After a social inquiry report, Justice Ingrid Mangatal sentenced Millwood to 12 years imprisonment. She explained that she was using a starting point of 17 years, having regard to the large amount and the sophisticated method of concealment. The judge then considered Millwood’s difficult childhood as revealed by the social inquiry report, along with health issues. She accepted the defendant’s lesser role in the importation, saying Millwood, then 24, really did appear to be a person who was vulnerable and easily exploited.

In presenting Millwood’s appeal, Ms. Fosuhene submitted a 2012 case from the U.K. in which the Court of Appeal judges dealt with six women who had been sentenced for importing cocaine. None was shown to have been an entrepreneur, but each worked for someone engaged in large-scale buying and selling.

The U.K. court described the women as couriers, in the sense that they were all dealt with on the basis that the cocaine belonged to other people. “It is important to say that that does not mean that all who can attract that description are the same,” the court noted.

“Their culpability is likely to vary. At its simplest there are those who are exploited or oppressed by others, and there are those who engage voluntarily in the couriering of drugs, are in it for the money and have the freedom to make the decision. There are many other gradations of culpability,” the U.K. court said.

After Millwood’s trial, the Crown and defense had agreed that she was a low-level drug mule rather than a courier. The distinction was explained as a courier being someone who has some understanding of the scale of the operation, while the mule is a person “packed up and sent on their way.”

Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Patrick Moran replied to Ms. Fosuhene’s arguments by referring to evidence in Millwood’s trial that he said indicated she was actively involved in the importation process. He argued that 17 years was not an excessive starting point and he cited a local case in which 12 years was imposed after a guilty plea.

In delivering the Court of Appeal’s decision, Justice Dennis Morrison referred to the local tariff for drug offenses. He pointed out that the guidelines announced by Chief Justice Anthony Smellie in 2002 were applicable, not the U.K. guidelines. The maximum sentence is 35 years and an unlimited fine, but that is for the worst offense by the worst offender; the tariff is 15 years or more for substantial dealings in hard drugs.

For a person playing a lesser role, the usual starting point has been eight years, with a range from six to nine years, Justice Morrison noted.

Justice Morrison heard the appeal with court president Sir John Goldring and Justice Sir George Newman.

In announcing their decision, he pointed out that Justice Mangatal had been asked to consider Millwood’s lesser role. He said the court was unable to say that the judge had erred in doing so. As appeal judges, they were concerned that the sentence starting point may have been too high; they thought 15 years would be the more appropriate starting point.

Notwithstanding a reluctance to interfere, they applied the starting point of 15 years and determined that 10 years was the appropriate sentence.

They pointed out that the sentencing judge had heard all of the evidence during the trial.