The Cayman Islands Court of Appeal on Friday upheld the sentences of two men involved in the largest bank robbery in the history of the Cayman Islands. The three-judge panel also upheld the conviction of one of the men.
David Tamasa, 36, had been convicted as the mastermind of the plot to rob the Cayman National Bank branch in Buckingham Square on June 28, 2012, and as the supplier of two firearms for the robbery. The court ruled that his 14-year sentence was entirely consistent with local and U.K. guidelines.
George Mignott lost his appeal against a sentence of 12 years. CCTV footage of the robbery had shown him aiming what appeared to be a shotgun at people in the bank.
The shotgun and a handgun carried by another robber were never found. The Crown therefore had to charge the robbers with possession of imitation firearms with intent to commit the robbery. Those sentences were to run concurrently.
The Court of Appeal said phone records before, during and after the robbery supported the evidence of chief Crown witness Marlon Dillon, who had pleaded guilty to his role in the crime.
Stuart Dack, then president of CNB, had provided a statement read to the sentencing judge in March 2015. He said the direct loss to the bank was more than half a million dollars – CI$502,436.17 in US and CI currency – and an indirect loss of CI$150,000 in terms of time spent investigating and checking records after the robbery. The vast majority of money stolen was not recovered.
Mr. Dack stressed the psychological and emotional effect on staff and customers. The robbery had an impact on the banking industry, society and Cayman as a whole, he said.
That was after a second Grand Court jury found the men guilty. The Court of Appeal had ordered a retrial because of what they called a “material irregularity” in the first trial. It concerned the right of defendants to remain silent and how a jury should be instructed on that point.
None of the defendants gave evidence in either trial.
Tamasa and Mignott had their appeals presented last week. Justices Sir Bernard Rix, Sir George Newman and Sir Alan Moses heard the arguments and Justice Moses delivered their decision.
Justice Moses said the question regarding Tamasa was whether the jury was entitled to convict him when the evidence fundamentally came from Dillon, an accomplice who pleaded guilty, gave evidence in both trials, and received a sentence of three years.
Senior counsel James Curtis, who represented Tamasa at his Grand Court trial, had described Dillon’s evidence as tainted, dishonest and minimizing his own role. When shown inconsistencies, Dillon accused police of fabricating his statements. Dillon was also told that if he named names it would be better for him in court. He alleged involvement of at least one innocent person.
Justice Moses stated, “We agree that in the period leading up to the trials and during the trials, he [Dillon] lied casually, habitually and instinctively whether on oath or not.”
In the absence of the jury during the second trial, Mr. Curtis and other defense attorneys argued that there was no case to answer because Dillon’s credibility was “nonexistent.” Justice Ingrid Mangatal disagreed. The Court of Appeal said she was correct to refuse to withdraw the case from the jury.
She had reminded herself that there was phone evidence capable of providing evidence that supported Dillon’s evidence. In her view, she would be usurping the role of the jurors if she withdrew the case from them. She instructed the jurors that they should approach Dillon’s evidence with extreme caution and care, that they should look for supporting material before acting on his evidence.
The examination of defendants’ cellphones provided evidence to support Dillon’s allegation that Tamasa was the organizer of the robbery. Justice Moses pointed out that Dillon could not have known what the results of those examinations would be.
The actual robbery was carried out by Dillon, Mignott and a third man, Ryan Edwards (who did not appeal his sentence), while a fourth man, Rennie Cole, had the role of distracting the guard at the door of the bank just before the robbers entered.
Two days before the robbery, there were 30 calls between the defendants’ phones. The day before the robbery there were 24 calls between them.
Justice Moses said the most significant sequence of calls was on the day of the robbery itself. There were 37 calls between 5:31 a.m. and 9:34 a.m. within the circle of people Dillon had named as being involved in the robbery, and then 18 minutes of silence during the time of the robbery. Tamasa, however, continued to call or receive calls from other numbers.
There was no contact between the defendants until after 9:52 a.m., when there were about 60 calls between them over the rest of the day.
It was not just the number of calls, but the timing that the appeals court found significant. Mignott’s last calls on the night before the robbery were to Tamasa, Edwards and Burton. His first call the morning of the robbery was to Tamasa. Tamasa phoned Dillon early that morning and then called Burton.
Dillon’s evidence was that he went to Tamasa’s address after Tamasa phoned him, and there he picked up Mignott. He said he was then instructed to pick up Burton in George Town, meet Edwards and then go to the robbery.
After the robbery, Dillon’s first phone call was to Tamasa; Burton’s first phone call was also to Tamasa.
Phone records of the defendants’ calls to each other were consistent with Dillon’s account in terms of timing, sequence and the locations of the individuals.
In summary, the Court of Appeal concluded that jurors were not only entitled to reach guilty verdicts, but also it was safe for them to do so.
Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryll Richards, assisted by Crown counsel Candia James, responded to the appeal arguments.
Convicted robber Rennie Cole received eight years after the second trial; Burton, the getaway driver, received 14 years. Edwards, who was not part of the retrial, received 13 years from Justice Alexander Henderson after the first trial.
Both Edwards and Cole, Jamaican nationals, were recommended for deportation after their sentences are served.